The Swamp was emptying, but a vociferous chant still spread like wildfire.
“FIRE MUSCHAMP! FIRE MUSCHAMP! FIRE MUSCHAMP!”
The Florida Gators lost 42-13 to Missouri last season, as former coach Will Muschamp’s hot seat officially caught fire in a humiliating homecoming defeat.
The Tigers’ Marcus Murphy returned the opening kickoff for a score — and the game snowballed from there.
UF yielded six consecutive touchdowns — a kickoff return, a rushing score, a punt return, a fumble return and a pick-six — as its special teams and offense (six turnovers) imploded.
“It was the lowest point of the year,” defensive end Alex McCalister said.
Said cornerback Brian Poole: “That was probably the worst I’ve ever felt.”
Safety Marcus Maye said bluntly: “It was embarrassing.”
In the past two years, Missouri (4-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) has humbled Florida (5-0, 3-0), resoundingly. The two-time SEC East champs have throttled the former conference giant by a combined score of 78-30, including a 36-17 rout at Memorial Stadium in 2013.
Now, the Gators are chomping at the bit for payback.
“This is a big game on my calendar,” McCalister said. “We [need] to go to Missouri and really take it back from them.”
The random coincidence: It’s the Tigers’ homecoming Saturday.
“Really?” McCalister said. “Even more perfect. Even better.”
Florida, ranked No. 11, has exceeded expectations in the first year of the Jim McElwain era. With four of five games at home to start the season, an inexperienced team has feasted off The Swamp’s renewed energy, knocking off rival Tennessee and stunning then-No. 3 Ole Miss in a rout.
McElwain joked about the Tigers’ recent success over the Gators.
“It’s one of those deals where I’m sure, based on history, they feel pretty good about us being their homecoming [opponent],” he said.
But Florida is the team with all the momentum right now.
The Tigers are starting a true freshman quarterback (Drew Lock) for just the second time in 20 years. Their offense is abysmal (No. 120 nationally) and their defense, while stout, hasn’t faced an opponent ranked higher than 95th in the country this season.
Meanwhile, UF is not just fueled by revenge but also doggedly determined to avoid a classic “letdown game” after a smoking a top-5 team and then soaring in the polls.
“I don’t think they’re taking it lightly or living on their past,” said McElwain, on his team’s preparation to avoid a hangover. “There’s been a lot of guys here that have obviously played them for two years, and whether they remember the net result of those two games, I don’t know.
“How much effect does that have? I’m not sure you can really tell, because when it’s all over it’s a choice. It’s an individual choice as to how you prepare and go play. … When there’s a sense of urgency and a sense of focus from the meeting room to the practice field, you know, at least you know comfortably that your guys are gonna go compete. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
The Gators are in the driver’s seat for a trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game, and McElwain looks to become just the second coach in UF history to start his career 6-0.
Look out, Tigers.
“These guys are the champs,” linebacker Antonio Morrison said. “We’re trying to knock them off.”
Saturday: No. 11 Florida at Missouri
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.; Memorial Stadium at Faurot Field, Columbia, Missouri.
TV/radio: SECN; WINZ 940.
Favorite: Florida by 4 1/2.
Records: Florida 5-0 (3-0 SEC); Missouri 4-1 (1-1 SEC).
Series: Missouri leads 3-1.
Florida injuries: Questionable — LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder); K Austin Hardin (quad); LB Jeremi Powell (foot); Out — RB Case Harrison (thumb).
Missouri injuries: Questionable — OT Nate Crawford (ankle). Out — TE Sean Culkin (knee); RB Morgan Steward (hip); DT Harold Brantley (leg); RB Trevon Walters (knee).