Florida football: 5 reasons Florida will buck recent history, beat Missouri
Gators fans don’t need to be reminded about their past two contests against Missouri.
The Tigers have dominated the Gators for eight consecutive quarters, winning by an average of 25 points per game and bullying Florida on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Those lopsided losses haven’t even come against excellent Missouri teams. In fact, Saturday’s contest will be the first since 2015 in which the Gators face a Missouri team entering the game with a winning record. In other words, Missouri has had Florida’s number even when things haven’t gone particularly well in Columbia.
Reversing past trends Saturday won’t be easy.
Missouri has been a different team at home this season, where it has won five games by an average of 29 points per contest. The Tigers are also getting healthy, with outstanding senior quarterback Kelly Bryant expected to play. Unlike Florida, the Tigers don’t really have a competent backup quarterback, a problem that reared its head at Georgia last Saturday. With Bryant, however, they are dangerous.
Still, the Gators showed great character in their response to the Georgia loss by walloping Vanderbilt 56-0 last Saturday, and there’s a sense in the Florida program that the team will continue to play well down the stretch.
Here are five reasons the Gators will snap their two-game losing skid to Missouri and pick up their third SEC road win of the season on Saturday.
The stakes are high, and Missouri will command UF’s attention after two straight routs
The way Florida has been dominated by Mizzou the past two seasons should command the Gators’ respect and attention. Florida’s upperclassmen are either winless or have one solitary win against Missouri in their careers. They know they are playing a physical team capable of not only beating them, but dominating them. In fact, Missouri has won four of the past six against the Gators.
Further, the stakes are high for Florida, which is a significant departure from last season’s contest — by which time Georgia had already sewn up the SEC East in the Cocktail Party — and two seasons ago — when Florida traveled to play Missouri with an interim head coach in the immediate aftermath of Jim McElwain’s resignation.
This year, the Gators enter Faurot Field with not only a puncher’s chance at winning the East but a great chance at qualifying for a second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl game, thanks to Big Ten attrition.
The Gators veterans say they’ve had a great week of practice, and they are well aware they will need to play well to win. This season, they’ll do just that.
Even with Bryant, Missouri has struggled vs. quality defenses
Florida enters the Missouri game ranked ninth nationally in scoring defense, 14th in total defense, 15th in S&P defensive efficiency, 11th in sack percentage, 12th in defensive havoc and 24th in pass efficiency defense.
That makes the Gators the best defense a Missouri team with Bryant has faced this season.
The previous best? Kentucky, which stifled the Tigers, holding them to fewer than 300 yards and only 7 points. Of course, Bryant left that game with an injury, and Missouri was also on the road. But the truth is that Florida’s a step up talent-wise from every defense Bryant has faced this season, and that could spell problems for an offense that hasn’t scored more than 14 points since beating Ole Miss on Oct. 12.
Missouri has struggled to run the ball, which keyed its prior two wins over UF
Missouri has used the power run game to set up shots downfield to its always talented receiver corps and All-America tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. Slow the run game and make Missouri one-dimensional, and Derek Dooley’s offense quickly becomes less formidable. Okwuegbunam has struggled this year (22 catches for 280 yards), and Missouri’s lack of balance is a big reason why.
Florida just hasn’t matched Missouri’s physicality at the line of scrimmage, and the Tigers have rushed for well over 200 yards in each game while limiting Florida to just 103 per game.
This season, Missouri has really struggled in SEC play to get Larry Rountree III and the run game going. The Tigers rank an anemic 83rd nationally in yards per rush attempt, and a pedestrian 60th in rushing offense as a whole.
They’ll face a Gators run defense that has been excellent the past two weeks since the return of edge setting defensive end Jon Greenard. Florida ranks 24th nationally in rushing defense and 31st in yards allowed per rush. Those numbers aren’t incredible, but this should be the first SEC game in which Florida has a healthy Greenard and Jabari Zuniga at its disposal. After losing to Mizzou up front for two seasons, expect a terrific Florida performance against the run Saturday.
Florida will hit explosive plays; Missouri won’t
The biggest problem for Bryant this year has been his inability to challenge defenses vertically. It’s the reason he eventually lost out to Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, and it has followed him to Columbia.
Bryant is 10-for-27 on throws of more than 20 yards, a number that slots him third-to-last among qualifying (six or more starts) SEC quarterbacks in deep ball accuracy.
Missouri has also struggled to generate explosives in the run game. Last week against Georgia, only one Missouri run generated more than 10 yards.
Dawson Downing's red zone scamper was Missouri's only designed run that gained 10+ yards. For a unit that had been overly reliant on scrambles and screens to make up for its shortcomings, Missouri's run game only averaged 0.86 yards before contact. https://t.co/7pm3DTM2mQ pic.twitter.com/rdXXN3FKec
— SEC StatCat (@SEC_StatCat) November 12, 2019
All told, Missouri’s inability to stretch defenses vertically and score quickly (a strength with Drew Lock) has hurt it this season, and it will again against a good Gators defense.
Meanwhile, Florida has been the SEC’s third most successful offense (number of plays deemed a “success” based on down and distance) in conference play, behind only LSU and Alabama. Much of this has been due to its ability to hit explosive plays, like Lamical Perine’s 88-yard touchdown run against Auburn, Josh Hammond’s game-sealing 76-yard touchdown run against Kentucky, Van Jefferson’s 23-yard touchdown catch against Georgia and Freddie Swain’s 64-yard house call against Auburn.
The Gators will hit an explosive play or two Saturday and force Mizzou to consistently drive the length of the field. That will be the difference.
Even if it is a shootout, trust Kyle Trask
Saturday’s game doesn’t profile as a shootout. It features two defenses in the top 20 nationally in total and S&P rankings, and it will be played with an 11 a.m. kickoff in bitter cold. That smells like a defensive struggle.
Naturally, then, this will turn into a track meet.
If it does, trust Kyle Trask. The redshirt junior is third in the SEC in passing efficiency, a rating he owns despite playing some of the SEC’s best defenses (Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Kentucky).
Missouri ranks first in the SEC in both pass efficiency defense and yards allowed per pass attempt, but by Barry Odom’s admission, it hasn’t faced a group of tight ends and receivers as good as Florida’s.
If Florida needs 30 points or more to win, trust Trask to find a way to get that done.