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Thursday, June 13, 2024
<div>Florida head coach Randy Shannon argues a call with a referee during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 45-16. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)</div>
Florida head coach Randy Shannon argues a call with a referee during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 45-16. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

One week after the firing of their coach and a demoralizing defeat against No. 1 Georgia, Florida fans waited to see how the Gators would respond. On Saturday against Missouri, UF’s response was so heinous that interim coach Randy Shannon condemned it like a school-wide scandal.

“Today’s game wasn’t representative of the University of Florida,” Shannon said after his first game in charge of the Gators (3-5, 3-4 SEC).

In Columbia, Missouri, Florida’s on-field product mirrored its off-field tension leading into the team’s first game without former coach Jim McElwain, a game that saw the Tigers roll over UF, 45-16.

With Shannon in charge, even a change at the quarterback position — starting transfer Malik Zaire instead of redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks — didn’t lead to a change in the outcome for Florida. UF dropped its fourth consecutive conference game, this time to a team that hadn’t won an SEC matchup all season heading into Saturday.

Missouri (4-5, 1-4 SEC) looked unstoppable on Faurot Field, racking up 455 yards of offense on a Gators defense that had always been the team’s biggest strength. Florida was at the mercy of Tigers quarterback Drew Lock who, aside from an opening-drive interception, completed 15 of 20 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns.

Gators linebacker David Reese said he didn’t see the result coming.

“I’m surprised,” Reese said. “We knew what we needed to do and we still didn’t accomplish it. It’s upsetting, but it’s something to learn from going on.”

Florida will have to learn from Saturday’s mistakes — penalties in the red zone, mental errors on special teams, a lack of effort on defense — quickly if it wants to avoid another embarrassing outing next week in South Carolina when Florida faces the Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3 SEC). To qualify for a bowl game, the Gators likely need to win all three of their remaining regular-season games.

That’s the goal now for Zaire, who threw for 158 yards and one interception in his first game as UF’s starter.

“Obviously, the season hasn’t been going like I’ve (planned),” Zaire said after the loss. “I trust the guys (can stay) unified these next games, so we can make our push for a bowl game.”

It’s not clear if Zaire will be back under center to start in UF’s next contest. After Franks came into the game late and led Florida’s only touchdown drive, Shannon said he hasn’t decided who will run the offense next weekend.

“(Zaire) didn’t give us the lift we want,” Shannon said. “When we put Feleipe in it was like a little bit smoother. We’re not saying Feleipe’s (going) to be the starter next week, but we just need consistency in anything we do.”

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And while trying to mend this team’s troubles with a simple switch feels like putting a Band-Aid on a tumor, it’s one of the few ways the Gators can convince themselves that there’s much left to play for.

Shannon said challenging the players is the only way to bounce back.

“I don’t think anybody that comes to this university is going to accept losing,” he said. “It’s our job to make sure those guys don’t accept that and play hard to get out there and have a chance to win a game.”

You can follow Matt Brannon on Twitter @MattB_727, and contact him at mbrannon@alligator.org.

Florida head coach Randy Shannon argues a call with a referee during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 45-16. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
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