GAINESVILLE — It might not exactly be ideal to put your defense up against the wall every week, waiting for it to bail out a sputtering offense.
Once again on Saturday, however, that was pretty much the case during Florida's 14-7 victory over Missouri at the Swamp.
The Gators offense choked and coughed just enough to clear its throat of inconsistency to get into the end zone twice, then stood on the sidelines to watch a relentless defense wear down the visiting Tigers as they tried to mount several late rallies.
Florida coach Will Muschamp said he calls his defensive players firefighters.
"You're the firemen. Go put the fire out," Muschamp said. "I don't care how bad it's blazing, go put it out. . . . regardless of the circumstances, when you walk on the field (as a defensive player) your job is to stop them."
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said that's just playing defense.
"That's actually a great feeling," Floyd said. "To know that at some point in time .. with this game on the line, we're about to show . . . Is their offense better than our defense? Can their offense make big plays on a defense that's coming? We're relentless and that's how we want to play and that's how we strive to play every week."
They certainly answered the call on Saturday. Numerous times Missouri mounted drives that had the Gators with their heels inside the red zone, and numerous times they had Missouri and quarterback James Franklin backtracking.
The defense bent numerous times, even allowing a hobbling Franklin to look like a dual-threat QB on occasion, but it broke just once. That allowed Missouri to take a 7-0 halftime lead, but the Tigers never got back in the end zone.
Missouri had several opportunities to score.
• The Tigers had first-and-goal from the UF 7-yard line in the third quarter that ended in a blocked field goal by cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy.
• Also in the third, the Tigers had first-and-10 at the UF 27-yard line, but that threat was ended when Franklin sailed a pass into the waiting arms of UF safety Matt Elam at the goal line.
• In the fourth quarter, Missouri had first-and-10 at the UF 24-yard line, but a sack by Jelani Jenkins that forced an intentional grounding penalty on Franklin, and another sack by the tandem of Dominique Easley and Jonathan Bullard backed the Tigers into a fouth-and-30 situation and forced a punt.
• Missouri had a fourth-quarter drive start at UF's own 45-yard line, but the first play ended that prospective series with an interception by Jonathan Bostic.
• And finally, the Tigers had UF on it's heels with a first-and 10 at the Gators' 25 with 26 seconds left, but Mizzou could not convert again, adn the threat and game ended with an interception in the end zone by Florida's Josh Evans.
Missouri racked up some yardage in the middle of the field, but once the Gators were backed up as far as they could be pushed, they pushed back.
"I'm going to out-physical you ... at some point during that 60 minutes, your body is going to give out before mine does," Floyd said. "And once we see it, we get a burst of energy. Here we come again and you gotta deal with us more."
A lot of the credit goes to the defensive front, which began wearing down the Missouri offensive line with a rotation of fresh players on a hot November afternoon.
"There's no question that having a lot of guys being able to rotate in there and play is a huge part of where we are at this point," Muschamp said. "Dan (defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Dan Quinn) was able to identify situations, subbing an entire defensive front and put four fresh rushers into the game and that was the difference in the game, us being able to rush four."
Missouri's final drive started at its own 20-yard line and the Tigers marched right down the field with Franklin locking in on gifted freshman receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. But again, the Gators were loose in the middle of the field, but not in the red zone.
"Going up the field they kept running curl routes and quick passes and sooner or later, it's not going to work," Floyd said of Missouri eventually running out of room to operate. "We eliminated a lot of things."
And put out a lot of fires.
"I like that," Floyd said. "I'm a firefighter."
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun