During Missouri football’s four-game tailspin, one positive through it all has been the defensive line and at times the play of the entire defense.
That was no different Saturday as the Tigers hosted No. 11 Florida in a Southeastern Conference game at Faurot Field.
Florida finished the game with 386 yards of total offense but was held to two field goals in the first half and punted seven times overall.
Missouri failed to score a touchdown for the second straight game, again putting the defense in a difficult spot. Florida finally took advantage by reaching the end zone twice in the third quarter and added another field goal in the fourth to beat Missouri 23-6.
Missouri defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside, who posted four tackles and two sacks on the day, said if the line doesn’t control up front there is no way for the defense to be successful.
“I feel like the defensive line is working real hard to disrupt any offense,” Whiteside said. “It all starts up front, I feel. When we are on the field, no matter what the score is, we are going to play as hard as possible.”
The defense kept Florida in check for most of the first half, holding Gainesville’s gridiron squad to 176 yards of total offense before halftime.
Whiteside picked up both of his sacks in the first quarter when Missouri’s defense was at its best.
He said when the offense is struggling, it makes the defense want to grind even harder.
“To tell you the honest truth, I just say God blessed me,” Whiteside of his ability to get sacks. “When you are going it’s all just reaction.”
Fellow defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, who made four tackles and one sack in the game, said it’s not frustrating when the offense struggles. It’s up to the defense to keep the team in the game, he said.
“We just look at it as another opportunity,” Elliott said. “Defensively, we are just looking for opportunities. Every time we are on the field we have to take full advantage of it. It’s not a thing of frustration, it’s just an opportunity. It’s one of those things that you do what you have to do. Put your hardhat on and go to work.”
Missouri (5-5, 2-4 SEC) did its job stopping Florida on third downs, as the Gators converted just 3 of 14.
Khalil Oliver nearly made a game-changing interception in the third quarter, but it was ruled a reception by Florida tight end Kyle Pitts even though Pitts never appeared to have complete possession of the ball.
“I felt like you can’t get any cleaner than that,” Elliott said. “Everybody thought that it was an interception. It kind of looked like it was clear as day, but they saw something different.”
The Gators scored three plays later on the same drive to go up 20-6.
Florida coach Dan Mullen called the Tigers’ defensive front a disruptive force.
“Negative yardage plays really hurt us,” Mullen said. “They were getting pressure on us, so we weren’t as clean as we wanted to be offensively.”
Whiteside and Elliott keyed the defensive effort playing side-by-side with chemistry that has only improved as the season unfolds.
“We feed off of each other,” Whiteside said. “If they double-team him, I’m free, and if they double-team me, he’s free. We just have to go full force in our next two games and never look back.”
Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton, who tied for the team lead against Florida with six tackles, said the defense has to continue to find ways to make plays down the stretch.
“Our turnover was plus-2, plus-3 during our winning streak, but since then it’s been down,” Bolton said. “We haven’t had a turnover in the last two games. So we have to find ways to get the football back to our offense and help them score.”
Bolton said there is no reason to pout. The Tigers can only improve their 5-5 record by winning next week.
“We have two games left, home and away, so we just have to look for opportunities and make a play,” Bolton said.
Missouri is scheduled to host Tennessee at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Faurot Field.