Missouri backed up its upset of defending national champion LSU with a 20-10 domination of Kentucky last weekend. Now, Eli Drinkwitz and the Tigers will travel to No. 10 Florida to try to keep the win streak rolling. It will be the first game in three weeks for the Gators, who were originally scheduled to host Missouri Oct. 24, due to a COVID-19 outbreak. The big question: How many and which Florida players will be available Saturday, and how will going two weeks without practice impact the Gators?
We may not know the answer until kickoff. But in the meantime, we get you set with everything else you need to know for the game in our Ultimate Preview.
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Florida
TV: SEC Network-Alternate (Mike Morgan, Hutson Mason, Taylor Davis)
Radio: Tiger Radio Network (Mike Kelly/Howard Richards/Chris Gervino)
Spread: Florida -13
Series history: Missouri leads 5-4
Last meeting: Florida won 23-6 at Missouri last season
When Missouri has the ball:
The Missouri offense has used two completely different game plans to win its past two games. Against LSU, the Tigers had to throw for 400-plus yards and four touchdowns to keep pace. The next time out, against Kentucky, they ran the ball a whopping 62 times, dominated the line of scrimmage and held possession for more than 43 minutes. That bodes well for a matchup with a Florida defense that has had its struggles this season. Florida is allowing its opponents to gain 493 yards per game through three contests, which ranks second-to-last in the SEC. The Gators have been especially bad against the pass, allowing a league-worst 331 yards per game through the air.
That said, Drinkwitz warned during his mid-week press conference not to let the numbers fool you. He said the Florida defense, led by veteran defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, will pose a challenge for Missouri. The main key to the matchup will likely be how Missouri’s offensive line holds up. The Tigers saw three starters, left guard Xavier Delgado, left tackle Zeke Powell and right tackle Larry Borom, leave the Kentucky game due to injury, and their status for Saturday is uncertain. Plus, Grantham’s defenses are known for bringing pressure — Drinkwitz said it “feels like they’re bringing people off the bench on third downs.” That could test a banged up offensive line and young quarterback. Florida had four sacks in each of its first two games of the season, both wins, but didn’t record a sack in its loss to Texas A&M.
If Connor Bazelak can stay upright and avoid being rushed Into bad decisions, he could be primed for a big game. Bazelak’s 69.6 completion percentage ranks third in the SEC, and against LSU, he and the rest of the Missouri passing attack showed they are capable of taking advantage of favorable matchups through the air.
When Florida has the ball:
Missouri’s defense played a masterful game last week, boosted by the fact that they were only on the field for 36 snaps. So, on the bright side, the Tiger players should be fresh. Unfortunately, however, Florida’s offense has been far more dynamic than Kentucky’s.
Florida ranks sixth nationally in scoring offense and second in the SEC, behind only Alabama. Led by quarterback Kyle Trask, the Gators rank 10th in passing offense. Trask carved up Missouri a season ago, completing two-thirds of his passes for 330 yards, two touchdowns and no Interceptions despite not attempting a pass in the final eight minutes of the game. His 14 touchdown passes this year lead the SEC, and he ranks second to Mac Jones in completion percentage and yards per attempt.
Trask’s two primary weapons are receiver Kadarius Toney and tight end Kyle Pitts. Florida looks to get Toney involved in both the passing and running games. He has 18 catches and five rushing attempts on the season, and he’s turned those 23 touches into 297 yards and four touchdowns. Pitts, the frontrunner for the Mackey Award and a likely first-round NFL Draft pick, presents a matchup nightmare. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound athlete has 17 catches for 274 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. His seven scores are the most by a tight end and third-most among all pass-catchers in the country, despite the fact that he’s played just three games. Look for Missouri to do everything it can to avoid putting players in one-on-one coverage against Pitts. Overall, Missouri has been iffy in pass coverage this season, especially against Alabama’s Jones and LSU’s Myles Brennan, two of the better quarterbacks in the league. The Tigers gave up a combined 733 yards through the air in those two games.
Both teams feature reliable placekickers. Missouri freshman Harrison Mevis has made seven of eight field goals, his only miss coming from 56 yards, and all nine of his extra point attempts on the season. Florida junior Evan McPherson has been one of the most reliable kickers in the SEC for three seasons now. He’s made all five field goal attempts and all 16 extra points this season, and he’s only missed four field goals in 43 attempts for his career.
With Toney returning punts and kickoffs, Florida gets an edge in the return game. Missouri has muffed three punts this season, and while the Tigers seem to have corrected that issue by using walk-on Cade Musser as to field punts, Musser has yet to attempt a return this season.
Missouri’s keys to the game
1. Hold your own up front.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Missouri’s win over Kentucky was the play of the Tigers’ offensive line. Thought to be a weakness entering the season, the line pushed around the Wildcats’ defensive front and only allowed one sack, which came when Bazelak tried to scramble on fourth and one. The Tigers will need to replicate that production this week, perhaps absent a few starters. Drinkwitz wouldn’t reveal which Missouri players were in danger of missing this week’s contest when he spoke to the media, but he did say the team would be down two scholarship players from the week prior, and three offensive linemen left last week’s game with injury.
Regardless of who lines up against Florida, the Tigers will need to run the ball better than a year ago, when they mustered just 52 yards on the ground against the Gators. They also need to keep Bazelak upright. Per Pro Football Focus, Florida’s pass rushing grade ranks 10th in the country among teams who have played more than one game. The Gators send pressure from everywhere, as evidenced by the fact that six different players have a sack so far this season.
2. Contain the Kyles.
No opponent has really stopped the Florida passing attack this season, and it would be unreasonable to expect Missouri to do to the Gators what it did to the Kentucky passing game. But the Tigers need to limit big plays through the air and try to keep Pitts out of the end zone once Florida gets into the red zone. Florida has also scored touchdowns on 12 of its 15 red zone trips this season. All but one have come through the air. Again, no one is expecting Missouri’s defense to hold Pitts without a catch or keep Trask under 100 yards, but the Tigers obviously don’t want this to turn into a shootout where Florida scores every time it touches the ball.
3. Keep winning third downs.
One of the major keys to Missouri’s two-game winning streak: The third down defense has done a 180. Alabama converted nine of 14 third downs into first downs in Week One, then Tennessee moved the chains on six of 13 the following week (and got close enough to convert on all four of its fourth down tries). The past two weeks, however, LSU and Kentucky combined to convert on just two of 19 third downs. That will be put to the test against Florida. The Gators have gained first down yardage on 16 of 28 third downs this season. That 57.1 success rate ranks fourth nationally among teams that have played more than one game.
On the other side of the ball, Missouri has converted half its third downs the past two weeks, and should have a chance to improve that number against Florida. The Gators have allowed opponents to convert on 58.7 percent of third downs. That ranks third to last nationally and is the worst among teams that have played more than one game.
Numbers to Know
22.7: Average margin of victory for the winning team In the last seven games between Missouri and Florida, with the Tigers winning four of those games and Gators winning three. The closest game between the two teams during that stretch was last year’s 17-point win by Florida.
14:1: Trask’s touchdown-to-interception ratio through three games this season.
1.79: Yards per carry by Missouri’s rushing offense against Florida last season.
55: Yards needed for Larry Rountree III to pass Zack Abron and become Missouri’s all-time leading rusher among tailbacks.
37: Carries by Rountree during Missouri’s win over Kentucky. The Wildcats ran 36 offensive plays.
95.0: Bazelak’s completion percentage on third and fourth down the past two games. Bazelak is 19 for 20 in those situations.
Mitchell Forde: Any prediction for this game needs to be prefaced by saying we don’t know who is going to be on the field (for either team, but especially Florida) nor how going two weeks without practicing will impact the Gators. I think Missouri is capable of winning this game even if the Gators are at full strength, but if they’re down a dozen starters or something like that, obviously Missouri’s chances improve. However, assuming Florida has all of its offensive weaponry available, Trask and company are going to be able to move the ball through the air, and I don’t quite see Missouri being able to keep pace if the winning score gets above 35 points. I think the Tigers keep it close but Florida pulls away in the fourth quarter. Florida 38, Missouri 31.
Gabe DeArmond: Making a prediction here is impossible. We have no idea who’s playing for Florida. Are the quarantines to backups or are the Gators without six starters? Given everything I think the two-touchdown line is too high. I like Missouri to keep this close. I’m not sure I believe the Tigers are going to pull the outright upset, but what fun are predictions if you never take a risk? Missouri 31, Florida 30 with Harrison Mevis the hero.