With cold in the air and snow on the sidelines, many predicted Florida to come out pounding the ball on the ground, using the run game to penetrate the Missouri defense.
But that’s not what happened.
Florida lined up in shotgun formation right out of the gate and threw the ball into the icy wind. Receiver Van Jefferson, who came into the game with just 32 catches on the year, was targeted four times in the opening drive, catching three for 42 yards. A sack halted the promising drive, and Florida settled for a 47-yard field goal, but the message was sent: The run game would not be a priority on Saturday.
Even with the UF offensive line struggling to protect quarterback Kyle Trask, coach Dan Mullen still pressed on in the passing attack. Missouri, which entered with just two sacks in its last four contests, sacked Trask four times in the first half and forced him off balance on many of his throws. Florida moved the ball down the field with short throws but struggled to punch the ball once it was deep in Missouri territory, instead settling for two field goals before the intermission.
The run game struggled the few times it was tried. Florida had five carries for 29 yards after the first half, and UF running backs accounted for just five of those yards. Without a reliable run game to bring up the defense, Missouri was free to sit back and prioritize stopping Florida’s pass attack.
“I thought we were moving the ball well, and it wasn’t like we got stuck in the mud,” Mullen said. “We were moving the ball, and then a big negative play that we couldn’t recover from. And then end up having to punt.”
The offense did get going in the second half, but the run game still struggled. Trask finished the contest completing 23 of his 35 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns. It was the fourth-straight game Trask completed 20 or more passes.
But though UF held the lead for much of the second half, it ran the ball just 11 times and finished the game with a paltry 56 yards on the ground, the third-lowest total of the year.
Saturday against Missouri was the third-straight game the Gators had under 30 carries and the sixth-straight where it threw the ball more than it ran.
It makes sense why. Florida came into the matchup with the 105th best rushing attack in the nation with 131.0 yards per game. Florida’s offensive line — which saw four starters depart after the 2018 season due to the NFL Draft and graduation as well as the transfer of Chris Bleich two weeks ago — has struggled to get a push at the line of scrimmage. The result has been terrible rushing numbers and slow starts like Saturday’s game.
This game, against a middling Missouri run defense, seemed like a good opportunity to revive a lackluster rushing attack that has hindered a Florida offense from reaching its full potential this season. But instead, it was more of the same.
“We’ve had a couple of games like this where it’s a little slow start this season,” Trask said. “I think it’s taught our guys just to stick with it. That’s why we’re never panicking, especially in a situation like this when it’s so low-scoring at halftime… Eventually, we got it rolling.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at [email protected]