More than halfway through the third quarter, neither Missouri nor Florida’s offense had managed a first down in the second half.
The Tigers’ homecoming game and the first night game at Memorial Stadium in almost two years had turned into a punt-fest between MU’s Corey Fatony and Gators sophomore Johnny Townsend.
It began to feel like neither offense had a chance to score, so No. 11 Florida’s defense did the honors instead.
Missouri freshman quarterback Drew Lock stared down sophomore tight end Jason Reese on an out route, which Florida junior cornerback Jalen Tabor jumped for an interception he’d return 40 yards to paydirt.
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It proved to be the back-breaking score in a 21-3 Tigers loss that serves as a stark reminder, if anyone needed it, that Lock remains an 18-year-old who graduated from Lee’s Summit in May.
He said he misread the coverage and thought he could muscle a pass to the sideline.
“I should have played the other side,” Lock said. “I thought I could get it by (Tabor). I didn’t necessarily think they’d be playing two-man. It’s not one of their most popular coverages.”
Florida, 6-0 and 4-0 in the SEC East, brought the toughest defense Missouri, 4-2 and 1-2, had played this season.
Lock is a believer after going 16 of 39 for 151 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, a 63.3 efficiency rating.
“He’s a guy that’s a very talented player, and we’re going to support him,” Pinkel said. “Certainly, we’ve got to play better around him and that will help him play better. … We’ll evaluate him and we’re going to help him.”
Lock was sacked three times, hurried another five times and suffered probably another dozen hits.
“It was frustrating …,” said Lock, who said he’d take the blame for the offense’s struggles. “It was a tough loss, but we’ll bounce back.”
The Tigers’ offense failed to convert a third down until 36 seconds remained in the game, going one for 14, and managed only 257 yards, averaging 4.0 yards per play.
“One of the things we wanted to do going in was show something and then get to something else to give him a different look,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “It’s hard on young quarterbacks when you are getting a bunch of different looks, believe me. I thought he played well and that guy is going to be one heck of an SEC quarterback.”
It was Missouri’s lowest offensive output since totaling 119 yards of offense during last year’s win at Florida, which featured four return touchdowns.
Missouri never established a running game and never really tried to either, calling 37 pass plays among the first 51 snaps from scrimmage.
It was the most ineffective offensive performance since last year’s 34-0 shutout loss against Georgia, which hosts the Tigers at 6:30 p.m. next Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.
Neither offense scored after the first quarter.
Florida, which has taken control of the SEC East race after Georgia’s loss at Tennessee, dominated the opening drive, a 12-play march that covered 75 yards in 5:29.
Junior tailback Kelvin Taylor’s 1-yard touchdown not only staked the Gators to an early lead, but it was the program’s first touchdown on an opening drive in two years.
It was impossible to know at the time, but that 7-0 lead was plenty for Florida.
Missouri answered with a scoring drive of its own, but it only netted three points on a 21-yard Andrew Baggett field goal.
Lock hit Wesley Leftwich for a 19-yard gain up the home sideline and connected with J’Mon Moore for a 32-yard gain down the visitors’ sideline, but the drive fizzled inside the Florida 5-yard line.
After trading punts, the Gators capped an 82-yard march with Taylor’s second 1-yard touchdown of the quarter for a commanding 14-3 lead.
Both touchdown drives were aided by Missouri personal fouls, an unnecessary roughness for a late-hit by freshman defensive end Nate Howard on the first drive and a facemask penalty on freshmen defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. on the second scoring drive.
That score stood through halftime as Baggett missed a 53-yard field goal and Florida’s Jorge Powell pulled a 36-yard try in the second quarter.
The Gators were set up with a short field after Lock’s first interception. He overthrew tight end Jason Reese on a corner route and junior safety Marcus Maye made a diving pick along the sideline.
“It’s not going to be the first or the last interception he threw, but he’s going to learn from it and that’s going to make him better …,” Pinkel said. “The people around him have got to play better. There’s no question, and give their defense a lot of credit.”