The Florida football team did its part to keep its slim SEC Championship hopes alive Saturday afternoon.
UF braved the cold, beat Missouri for the first time in three years and handed the Tigers their first home loss in over a year. But hours later, Georgia beat Auburn on the road to secure the division title for the third year in a row.
There will be no trip to Atlanta for the Gators to play for the conference title. But that shouldn’t be considered a disappointment for the program.
The Gators' early season success drastically raised expectations for the team. Florida rose to a legitimate conference contender and had an outside shot at a College Football Playoff appearance just a few weeks ago.
Now, the Gators, who are back at No. 10 in the latest AP Poll, have one regular season game remaining against Florida State. A victory against the Seminoles would mean a one-win improvement upon last year’s regular season record.
“We’ve done all we can do, obviously, with how the season has gone,” coach Dan Mullen said.
Barring a major upset against FSU, Florida built on last season’s success tremendously, overcame a slew of injuries and revolutionized the offense.
That shift in offensive identity was evident in Columbia, Missouri, on Saturday.
UF threw the ball 36 times compared to 26 run plays. There were times in the game where it seemed Mullen completely abandoned the run.
Starting running back Lamical Perine carried the ball just four times and quarterback Emory Jones led the team in rushing attempts with six.
For the first time in at least 15 years, the Gators are throwing the ball more often than they’re running it, and it’s not particularly close. In recent history, it also wasn’t close, just the other way around.
Mullen did not seem to care one way or another after his team’s 23-6 road win.
“Winning, that’s all that matters,” he said. “Run, throw, pass, I don’t care.”
Mullen has certainly leaned on quarterback Kyle Trask’s arm and his array of wide receivers to carry the offensive load this season, and he'll have two more games this season to continue to showcase that air attack.
“We will get ready to go and play Florida State in a couple of weeks,” Mullen said. “That’s going to be a fun game, that’s what is all about, going to play those guys. And then hopefully get to another good bowl game.”
The defense is just as deserving of the credit for putting the Gators in position to potential make a New Year’s Six Bowl game as the offense is. UF held the Tigers, a team that averaged more than 40 points per game at home, without a touchdown on Saturday.
After slipping up in October, the defense is back to the elite unit it was earlier in the season.
The blend of a strong defense and a potent offense clicking reminded senior receiver Josh Hammond just how different things were last time the Gators traveled out to the Midwest to face the Tigers.
“It felt good to come back here after what happened two years ago,” Hammond said. “We came here and got blown out with coaches getting fired. It felt good to come here and end on the right note.”
Follow Kyle Wood on Twitter @Kkylewood. Contact him at [email protected]