COLUMBIA, Mo. — Seal it with a diss, America. Hate, they can handle. Hate, they’re perfectly cool with.
They’re an army of Sith Lords in Nikes, these Missouri Tigers. The hate only makes them stronger.
“All game, Coach Steck (defensive coordinator Dave Steckel) said, ‘What about THIS defense? What about OUR offense? Make a statement!'” Aarion Penton, Missouri’s freshman cornerback, allowed after his Tigers curb-stomped the Florida Gators 36-17 at Memorial Stadium.
“That’s why Coach Steck was on us so much this week about this defense. We still don’t get the respect that we need.”
So the angry young men took it out on a Florida team that walked in Saturday all full of swampy, chompy Gator swagger, and went straight to the canvas in two plays. Twenty-seven seconds into the tilt, redshirt freshsman quarterback Maty Mauk had already thrown for 61 yards and a touchdown, Missouri was up 7-0 and the Tigers were hopping excitedly around the mat like a bunch of young Cassius Clays.
“He’s a good passer, and we’ve got great receivers outside,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said of the decision to go deep — a 41-yard strike from Mauk to L’Damian Washington — on the first play from scrimmage. “So it’s not like we’re not going to use them.”
The Gators had allowed just 152 passing yards per game. The Tigers threw for 295. Team Muschamp had been giving up 235.3 yards and 83.3 rushing yards per game. The Tigers went for 500 and 205, respectively. The Gators had surrendered an average of 14 first downs to opponents. The Tigers netted 24. The Gators came in averaging 1.83 sacks a contest. They left with none.
The Tigers’ 36 points were more than the previous three SEC opponents had scored on the Gators combined (34). The 500 yards were the most by a Florida opponent since Kentucky went for 512 yards in 2007. Such was the one-sidedness against a program that does not expect to get one-sided that the 15th bullet point in the notes package distributed by the Gators’ sports information office pointed out that “(Saturday’s) temperature at kickoff of 41 degrees was the lowest in Coach Muschamp’s tenure at Florida.”
Yeah, that’s why Henry Josey racked up 136 rushing yards on 18 carries. It was cold. Yeah, that’s it.
“One of (the) goals was to bring Missouri back to being respected,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said of his men, who moved to 7-0 overall and 3-0 in league play, opening up a two-game lead in the loss column atop the SEC East. “Not only in the SEC, but nationally.”
Now comes the hard part.
Handling the love.
Missouri woke up Saturday morning No. 14 in the most recent Associated Press poll. After putting the boot to a wounded Georgia team in Athens and putting another sole up the backside of Florida at home, the Top 10 beckons, you’d think. At least, you’d hope.
“We have to have a great practice on Tuesday,” center Evan Boehm said. “We can’t listen to, ‘Oh, you’re great, you’re great, you’re this, you’re that.’ Yeah, we know that.
“But we’re not going to worry about that right now. There’s going to be a time and a place to celebrate that. And right now is not the time to do that.”
Tempting, though, isn’t it? Georgia lost at Vandy. South Carolina lost quarterback Connor Shaw to a knee injury. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ homestand continues for two more weeks with visits from the Gamecocks and Tennessee Volunteers, and winnables on the docket for as far as the eye can see.
It’s too early to book tickets to the Georgia Dome for Dec. 7. But it’s not too early to browse, giddily, while you stitch together a Nick Saban voodoo doll for the road.
Atlanta in December, Coach. Ever cross your mind?
“I think we might focus on South Carolina,” Pinkel said.
“The coaches do a great job,” Boehm said, “of keeping us level-headed.”
Each week, though, it gets just a little harder to be humble. Mauk was up and down (then up again) in his starting debut (18-of-36 passing, one interception), as expected; the kid was guilty of pregame jitters and the occasional forced throw, but for a redshirt freshman, he also rarely looked out of his depth. Mauk went the entire afternoon without being sacked, while his Gator counterpart, Tyler Murphy, got taken down six times on the day, three of them by senior defensive end Michael Sam. Florida’s 151 total yards were the fewest the program had seen in a given contest since 1999.
Each week, the air gets a little more rarefied. Before Saturday, the last time Missouri toppled ranked opponents on consecutive weekends was 1973, when Al Onofrio’s bunch won at No. 19 SMU on Oct. 6 and then at home against No. 2 Nebraska on Oct. 13.
It’s almost as if the football gods have decided to make it up to Pinkel for all the grief (and injuries) on his plate a year ago. Of course, just because somebody holds the door open doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll run through it.
“We’ve just got to stay hungry if you want to keep winning,” Penton said. “So that’s how it goes. And we’re prepared.”
Atlanta in December, Evan. Ever been?
“I have not,” he said.
With that, Boehm grinned a bit, a grin that said he knew where this was going, and that he wasn’t interested in taking the damn bait.
“I’m not going to talk about it right now,” he said.
The Force is strong in this one.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.