COLUMBIA, Mo. - Missouri wasn't supposed to do all of this.
Not in the Southeastern Conference. Not against the league's best defense. Not with a redshirt freshman making his first collegiate start at quarterback.
Yet the Tigers continue to silence the doubters, as No. 14 Missouri (7-0, 3-0 SEC) beat a ranked opponent for the second straight week, this time a 36-17 manhandling No. 22 Florida (4-3, 3-2) on Saturday afternoon at Faurot Field. Combined with last week's victory against Georgia, it's the first time Missouri has beat ranked opponents two weeks in a row since 1973.
"There's just a confidence level on this team. One of their goals was to bring Missouri back to being respected, not only in the SEC but nationally," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. "I'm proud of those guys. Their football program is important to them. I thought we were going to have a good football team, I don't know why nobody else thought we were going to have a good football team."
The stats tell the story of Saturday's victory.
Missouri imposed its will by holding a 500-151 edge in total yards. The Tigers' defense racked up six sacks, while not allowing any on offense. Maty Mauk threw for 295 yards, which goes down as the most the Gators have allowed all season. Missouri was the first SEC team in 14 games to score at least 21 points against Florida.
The list could go on and on. Missouri owned just about every facet of the game.
"This is not a very good football team, and certainly not today," Florida coach Will Muschamp said of the Gators. "I am pretty disappointed that we have not made more positive strides offensively at this point of the season."
The onslaught started from the first play.
As promised, the playbook didn't change with Mauk replacing the injured James Franklin. The signal-caller proceeded to hit L'Damian Washington for a 41-yard pass down the right sideline. Florida defensive back Cody Riggs was ejected for targeting on the play, giving Missouri the ball on the Gator 20.
"To complete that pass from the gates, and then to get a targeting penalty on top of it, that really does something for your offense and the confidence, especially with a younger quarterback," Washington said.
Mauk went right back to the air, connecting with Bud Sasser in the left corner of the end zone to put Missouri ahead 7-0 just :22 into the contest.
"That got a lot of that stress off my back," Mauk said. "That's what got me calm the rest of the game."
The momentum quickly dissipated. After forcing a three-and-out, Marcus Murphy muffed a punt, handing the Gators possession on the Tiger 24. After reaching the 6, Florida settled for a 23-yard field goal from Frankie Velez.
Missouri made it 10-3 on a 43-yard field goal from Andrew Baggett late in the opening period. The score followed Aarion Penton's interception, marking the 37th straight game the Tigers have forced a turnover. Baggett added a 19-yard field goal midway through the second to make it 13-3.
Mauk nearly threw a pick-6 late in the first half, as Brian Poole intercepted a pass and took off down the sideline. Henry Josey made a touchdown-saving tackle, but Florida was in business at midfield. After driving to the 23, it was the Missouri defense that came up big again. Kony Ealy sacked for Murphy for a loss of 9, forcing the ball to come loose. Andrew Wilson dove on the ball to thwart Florida's momentum.
"The sky is the limit for our defense," Ealy said. "You haven't seen our best game yet."
That left Missouri with a 13-3 lead at halftime, as the Tigers limited the Gators to just 61 yards of offense.
With Florida struggling to move the ball, the Gators needed a spark elsewhere. They got it when Solomon Patton returned the second half opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, making it 13-10 just :12 into the half.
Missouri delivered a prompt response, as the Tigers drove 75 yards on five plays in 84 seconds, capped by a 6-yard scamper from Josey. A 52-yard pass from Mauk to Jimmie Hunt helped set up the score, putting the Tigers in business at the Florida 11.
"We answered," Pinkel said. "They had all the momentum just shot to them, and our offense went right back and scored ourselves. All of the momentum came right back to us."
Baggett tacked on a 39-yard field goal midway through the third to make it 23-10.
Florida's offense finally got something going late in the third. Stuck on 65 yards of total offense, the Gators drove 70 yards in six plays, capped by a 20-yard touchdown run from Kelvin Taylor that made it 23-17 with 46 seconds remaining in the stanza.
While the statistics showed a blowout, the scoreboard read a one-score game. Missouri then made sure the score matched the stats.
Baggett booted a 33-yard field goal early in the fourth before kicking a school record-tying fifth field goal with 8:04 left, a 28-yarder that put the Tigers ahead 29-17. Jeff Jacke set the benchmark against Kansas in 1992.
"It was slowly taking them out of the game," Pinkel said of the field goals. "It goes from a one-score game to a two-score game and on and on."
Mauk put on the finishing touches with a 17-yard touchdown run with 6:30 left that made it 36-17.
"He looked like a seasoned veteran out there," Pinkel said of Mauk's performance.
The victory puts Missouri in the driver's seat in the SEC East Division standings, as the Tigers have a two-game cushion in the loss column over South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. But don't tell that to Pinkel.
"I think we might focus on South Carolina," he said.
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