Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson returned interceptions for touchdowns, helping No. 18 Florida beat Missouri 40-14 on Saturday and move into first place in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
The cornerback tandem provided nearly as many highlights as either offense and seemingly saved the Gators (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) from a fourth homecoming loss in the last seven years.
Tabor, widely considered a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, squatted on a short pass by Drew Lock and went untouched for a 39-yard score in the second quarter. It was Tabor’s second Pick Six in as many years against the Tigers (2-4, 0-3). Not to be outdone, Wilson stepped in front of Sean Culkin on the ensuing possession, picked off Lock’s pass and went 78 yards the other way for his first career touchdown.
Florida, at least early, looked like it might need both of them on a rainy day in the Swamp.
Playing for the first time in a month, Luke Del Rio threw three interceptions in his return from a sprained left knee. And the Gators were flagged for eight false starts.
Florida’s defense once again bailed out a less-than-sharp offense, which has become an all-too-often occurrence in Gainesville.
Missouri went three-and-out on its first six possessions, Lock threw for a meager 39 yards and the offense notched just 16 first downs. The result was a ninth consecutive conference loss for the Tigers. The latest one came after a bye week in which Mizzou retooled its defense in hopes of better results. The Tigers allowed 418 yards rushing in a 42-7 loss at LSU two weeks ago.
Florida finished with 523 yards.
Del Rio completed 18 of 38 passes for 236 yards and a TD pass freshman Tyrie Cleveland. Jordan Scarlett had 101 yards rushing. Lamical Perine added 106 on the ground.
Tabor and Wilson, though, will share the spotlight after this win. Tabor talked earlier in the week about the duo having a healthy competition for picks in what’s expected to be their final collegiate season.
“Competition brings out the best in us all,” Tabor said. “I would be lying to you if I said when he gets a pick I don’t want a pick. That’s just competition, but it makes us better. We’re good friends at the end of the day, so there’s no hard feelings or anything. But man we’re competitive at the same time.”
Missouri: The Tigers will surely face more questions about an inept offense and a run-porous defense that has struggled to adjust to a new scheme.
Florida: Despite losing to rival Tennessee last month, the Gators now control their fate in the SEC East. But to win the division for the second consecutive year, Florida probably will need to beat Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina and LSU in consecutive weeks down the stretch.
Florida should move up a few spots in the next AP poll . The Gators topped 500 yards for the second time this season and would have enjoyed an even easier time had it not been for four turnovers.
Missouri: Hosts Middle Tennessee next Saturday. The Tigers won the only other meeting, 41-40 in overtime in 2003.
Florida: Gets another bye week before playing rival Georgia in nearby Jacksonville. The Gators have won 20 of the last 26 in the series.