Oral History: Defeat was ‘Lowest Point of 2014
It's the night of Oct. 18, 2014 and the homecoming weekend festivities are in full effect in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators are coming off a disappointing home loss -- a 30-27 defeat to the hands of LSU the previous week -- that Florida felt it should have won.
If Tevin Westbrook doesn't drop an easy pass in the end zone, Jeff Driskel doesn't throw a pick returned to the Florida 36 with 24 seconds remaining in the game and LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye doesn't hit a 50-yard field goal with three seconds left, the Gators are possibly 4-1, not 3-2. Florida players, coaches and fans are hungry to rebound with a victory over Mizzou inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The SEC East title is still within reach for Florida, which sits at 2-2 in league play only a game behind Georgia (who was at that point 3-1 in the conference) and a half a game behind Kentucky (2-1 SEC), a team it beat at the start of the season. The coaching hot seat is only that much hotter for Will Muschamp heading into a matchup with Missouri, the reigning SEC East champs.
Following that Saturday night, it was scorching.
Missouri drew first blood against Florida straight out of the gate. First came Marcus Murphy's 96-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff to make it 7-0 Tigers. Then, a touchdown run by Murphy about 11 minutes later for his second score of the night increased Mizzou's advantage.
Two second-quarter field goals by Andrew Baggett had Florida down 20-0 at halftime. The Gators' offense really couldn't get much going in the contest. Neither really could Missouri's, outside of one 18-play, 55-yard drive that ended in a field goal.
But when the third quarter came around, things got ugly fast. Two minutes into the quarter, Murphy returned a punt 82 yards for the score and then Maty Mauk converted on his pass to Bud Sasser for the two-point conversion to make it 28-0 Missouri. Then on a 3rd and 9, Tigers defensive Shane Ray blew right past left tackle D.J. Humphries to sack and strip Driskel of the ball - giving Markus Golden the opportunity to recover the fumble and take it in for the score.
The exclamation point on the loss came on another third down play on the next drive, as Driskel threw an interception to linebacker Darvin Ruise, who returned it 46 yards for the pick-six.
42-0 Tigers -- and it was only midway into the third quarter. Fans poured out of the stadium. Those who stayed filled The Swamp with chants of "Fire Muschamp" that the fourth-year Gators coach claimed he didn't hear.
Ask any player who was on that 2014 Florida roster, and most will say that the Gators' 42-13 loss to the Tigers was perhaps the darkest moment of the season.
Redshirt junior safety Marcus Maye: "Embarrassing. Just because you know that's not what we want to put on film. That's not how we expect to play. You know the fans aren't used to things going that way, just stuff like that. It was just a down for everybody, for the whole team. Just embarrassing for that game last year."
Redshirt junior defensive end Alex McCalister: "That was probably the lowest point of the year. That was homecoming, we came in and just let that team take everything from us. It's definitely a big game. It was a big game on my calendar, going to Missouri and really taking it back from them."
Redshirt senior wide receiver Valdez Showers: "Ah man, I felt disrespected. But at the same time we didn't hold up our end. We didn't execute, we didn't what we needed to do to win the game and they came in here and they wanted it and we didn't, so that's definitely what they proved."
Junior running back Kelvin Taylor: "I don't know, we just, they came here, they outplayed us. They played good."
Former Gators linebacker Michael Taylor: "The last two years we played them, they were just upstanding citizens. You would talk mess and would say something disrespectful to them and they were just like, 'OK.' They were just nice guys helping you off the field. And they were good, which kind of disturbed me. Like, 'Say something, talk trash, do something.' Don't just be nice."
Junior safety Keanu Neal: "We just gave up too many plays. We weren't completely dialed in and the film speaks for itself. We didn't execute. They made plays and we didn't. It's never fun to lose at home in general, but to lose at home on homecoming -- it wasn't very fun. It is what it is."
Former Florida kicker Francisco Velez: "I felt embarrassed, but I also felt for Coach Muschamp because he's not out on the field playing. He can't play for us, and I just feel like we let him down. I would do anything for Coach Muschamp, and I don't think he got a fair shot at the end. But that's the coaching business."
THE POST-GAME REACTION
After Driskel's second pick of the night, Florida would bench him in favor of Treon Harris - a move that would become permanent until the 2014 season concluded.
The true freshman signal-caller led Florida to two touchdown drives, but the game was already over at that point. Mizzou exited The Swamp with a 42-13 victory, dropping the Gators' record to 3-3 (2-3 SEC) and testing the mental fortitude of the 2014 Florida football team.
The Tigers had only gained 119 yards on offense that game. Teams in the FBS in the past 10 years who had recorded 120 yards or fewer on offense had gone 2-147. Both of those victories came against Muschamp-coached teams.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was deflated.
During his post-game press conference, Muschamp delivered plenty of the same clichés we all were tired of hearing over and over again -- fans and media alike.
"Very disappointed in the performance," Muschamp said. "It falls on my shoulders."
Meanwhile, the scene in the Florida locker room was one many Gators have tried hard to forget.
Senior cornerback Brian Poole: "That was probably the worst I've ever felt. There was not a whole lot to be said. I mean, they came out and dominated us from start to finish."
Neal: "It was bad. It was quiet. You could sense guys kind of losing hope, giving up. That's kind of expected in a sense, losing at homecoming in a home game, 50-something."
McCalister: "I really don't remember much. I remember just a bad vibe. It was just real quiet. I don't want that feeling again."
Neal, on the "Fire Muschamp" chants: "I didn't even hear them. I was so locked into the game that I didn't hear the crowd chanting. He mentioned it during our meeting Monday. That's what I remember. That's when I found out. … I don't want to get into detail about it. He was just trying to get us to not point fingers at anyone. It was a team loss."
A lot has happened since that fateful night. Florida bounced back two weeks later with a 38-20 upset victory against Georgia in Jacksonville, but that win only bought Muschamp two more weeks on the job. After a stunning 23-20 overtime loss to South Carolina at home that knocked UF out of SEC East contention, Mushamp was dismissed but allowed to coach UF's final two regular-season games.
Then, Jim McElwain made the flight from Fort Collins, Colo., to Gainesville last December. In only 10 months on the job, he has his Gators sitting atop the SEC East with a 5-0 (3-0 SEC) record heading into a matchup with the Tigers, the divisional champs of the past two seasons.
An 11th straight win against Tennessee was nice. A 38-10 victory over then-No. 3 Ole Miss put Florida back on the map.
But a win over this Missouri team this Saturday night in Columbia, Mo., would be vindicating for the Gators - especially after what transpired just a year ago on that ominous night.
It's the Tigers' homecoming weekend, after all. These Gators are eager to even the score.
Maye: "That game last year wasn't how we expected it to go. And you know we weren't expecting things to play out like that, but they did. That was last year. You know this is a new year. A new team. So we're just going to watch the film and just go out there like it's a new year."
Kelvin Taylor: "We're just playing our game now this year. This year's team, we're just going to take care of business and we're not really worried about what happened last year. We're just going to take care of business this year."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier: "I just think preparation, man. We're preparing like we have every week. We have to continue to prepare better and it will continue to show on the field. We've been playing ourselves. We always just try to prepare and play ourselves."
Neal: " Every game is big for us. We don't focus on who we're playing. We just know we've got another game coming up. Missouri was Missouri. Ole Miss was Ole Miss. It's the next team."
Senior linebacker Antonio Morrison: "Those guys are the champs, man. Two years. They're the champs of our side. Really we're trying to knock them off, know what I'm saying. They've been to Atlanta twice. So you know, we have to come in, great team, man. You can tell they're coached very well, man. The O-line all their steps are in synch, everybody plays hard. Those guys don't take a play off. It should be a great game."
McCalister, when he learned this weekend's game with Mizzou falls on its homecoming: "That's even more perfect. I didn't know that. That's better. Now I know."
Neal, when finding out the same: "Oh, that's nice. Looking forward to that."