University of Florida

Win over Missouri puts Gators back in spotlight

The Florida team celebrates with its fans after defeated Missouri 21-3 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 10 2015, in Columbia, Mo.
The Florida team celebrates with its fans after defeated Missouri 21-3 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 10 2015, in Columbia, Mo. AP

Who knew Tim Tebow was so clairvoyant?

Three weeks ago, the former Florida quarterback said the Gators’ return to prominence would start with a victory over rival Tennessee.

“It starts tomorrow. It would be a big win,” Tebow said at the time. “And guess what, next week it’s an even bigger game if you win. It’s crazy, but when you win, the games get even bigger, and then when you get a chance to be in those big games and you win, guess what? Everybody in the country is talking about you. Then it’s ‘The Swamp is what it was. The excitement is what it was. … It changes.”

It certainly has.

After knocking off Missouri 21-3 on Saturday, the Gators are 6-0, the first Southeastern Conference team bowl eligible and primed for a spot in the conference championship game for the first time since 2009.

Florida, ranked No. 8 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, is back in the top 10 again and now has a stranglehold on the East Division, grinding out a road win against the two-time defending division champs.

“It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination,” said UF coach Jim McElwain, who became just the second Florida coach in history — and first since 1928 — to start his career 6-0. “But we’re going to enjoy it. Sometimes in this business you have to win like that.”

In the Show Me State, Florida showed everyone last week’s stunning upset over then-No. 3 Ole Miss wasn’t a fluke. The Gators’ offense struggled at times against the Tigers’ aggressive front, but junior Kelvin Taylor rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns.

And UF’s stifling defense took care of the rest. The Gators’ ball-hawking unit forced two more turnovers (SEC-leading 13 on the year), recorded three sacks and held Missouri to a single third-down conversion (1 of 14).

“Coach [Geoff] Collins just puts us in position to make plays,” said sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor, who secured the win with a 40-yard pick-six in the second half.

“[Our] third down defense was key. … You win the drive on third down. That’s the money down. We got to get money on the money down.”

With the nation’s full attention now, Florida prepares for a prime-time showdown in Death Valley against No. 6 LSU and its Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette (7 p.m., ESPN). The marquee matchup is UF’s first top-10 game since beating No. 10 FSU in Tallahassee in 2012.

The Gators, picked to finish fifth in the SEC East during the preseason, could move one step closer to clinching the division — and capping a dramatic one-year turnaround — with a win at one of the toughest environments in college football.

“I would think you’d be kind of excited writing about how good we are right now,” McElwain joked. “But here’s the good thing, we can be as good as we want to be, but we’ve got to be good on Monday in order for that to happen. We’ve got to be great on Tuesday. As we keep going, I’m excited.”

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