Florida at Missouri preview: If Mauk avoids fatal mistakes, Tigers will survive

Sam Greenwood

Confused? Visit the Advanced Stats glossary here. Or just skip to the words. I won't be offended. (Okay, I'll only be a little offended.)

Five and a half. That's basically the number. In this week's F/+ picks, Missouri is projected to win by either 5.1 points (new projection method) or 5.6 (old). Injuries are in no way taken into account here, so it's basically saying that the Missouri team that has thus far shown up in 2013 would beat the overall Florida team by about five and a half.

Is James Franklin five and a half points better than Maty Mauk?

Florida at Missouri

Record AP
Rank
F/+ Rk Off. F/+ Rk
Def. F/+ Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
Florida 4-2 22 22 82 3 38
Missouri 6-0 14 14 40 10 59

If you weren't ruing James Franklin's injury before, you probably will now. Each week I've been sharing Mizzou's win probabilities, which are based on the F/+ rankings. Two weeks ago, they seemed too optimistic, and Mizzou went out and crushed Vandy on the road. Last week, they were even more optimistic, and Mizzou exceeded them once again with a 15-point win in Athens (in the least-winnable remaining game). So now, again based on the Missouri team that has hit the field thus far, the numbers are insanely favorable.

Mizzou's win probability
Tennessee 95% (two weeks ago: 70%)
Kentucky 94% (66%)
Texas A&M 73% (60%)
Ole Miss 71% (43%)
Florida 66% (31%)
South Carolina 65% (56%)


With a healthy Franklin, Missouri is projected to have basically a two-in-three chance, or better, of winning every single game remaining on the schedule. On average, that's about 4.6 wins in the remaining six games. But now we hit the reset button.

When Florida Has The Ball…

Like I said yesterday, Florida's offense is not as bad as it looked against LSU last Saturday. But it's not great. And it's not better than either Indiana's, Vanderbilt's, or Georgia's, that's for sure.

Standard Downs
UF
Offense
Missouri
Defense
SD % Run 73.0%
S&P+ Rk 56th 12th
Success Rate 48.3% 47.7%
PPP 0.47 0.44
S&P 0.956 0.917
Rushing S&P 0.884 0.832
Passing S&P 1.151 0.988

As good as Missouri has been in rushing the passer, it's major strength has come on standard downs, downs which usually benefit the offense. Mizzou has limited big plays, stayed relatively sturdy against the run, gotten pressure without blitzing, and prevented too much success in play-action.

Florida really, really wants to run the ball -- 73 percent on standard downs is ninth-most in the country. But the Gators are only decent at it, and their success seems to come in spurts. They find an advantage, they pick on it, and they maximize their yardage until that window closes. I'm not worried about Florida having a ton of success here, but if the Gators can have just enough success against Missouri's base defense, they could open up some play-action passing options.

Targets & Catches
Solomon Patton: 14 targets, 13 catches, 220 yards (15.7 per target)
Quinton Dunbar: 12 targets, 9 catches, 127 yards (10.6)
Trey Burton: 12 targets, 9 catches, 116 yards (9.7)
Demarcus Robinson: 5 targets, 2 catches, 26 yards (5.2)
Valdez Showers: 5 targets, 4 catches, 13 yards (2.6)

Florida has been quite successful in throwing on standard downs this year. Part of that is because the Gators don't do it very much, but when they do, it's when Solomon Patton is at his most dangerous. Word is that Aarion Penton will be starting tomorrow (source: Aarion Penton), which means that either he or Randy Ponder (over whom Patton has quite a speed advantage) could be matched up with Patton in E.J. Gaines' absence. That's pretty scary. As long as the safeties aren't distracted by the run, it might not be too much of an issue.

Passing Downs
UF
Offense
Missouri
Defense
PD % Run 39.7%
S&P+ Rk 56th 56th
Success Rate 36.6% 34.9%
PPP 0.51 0.53
S&P 0.879 0.883
Rushing S&P 0.653 0.953
Passing S&P 1.028 0.855

Mizzou gets really aggressive with its front four in passing downs; it has served the Tigers well quite often. But it opens up the possibility that Tyler Murphy -- whom I've accidentally called "Charlie Murphy" twice on live radio now ... TWICE -- escapes the pocket and gets running. He's not amazing at it, but he's still pretty good.

Targets & Catches
Burton: 19 targets, 15 catches, 165 yards (8.7 per target)
Dunbar: 19 targets, 11 catches, 156 yards (8.2)
Patton: 11 targets, 9 catches, 160 yards (14.5)
Ahmad Fullwood: 5 targets, 3 catches, 24 yards (4.8)
Robinson: 5 targets, 2 catches, 5 yards (1.0)

If Murphy can escape the pocket and extend both plays and drives, Florida can score enough points to win this game, especially if the Gators also get a couple of big plays from Patton. (They didn't against LSU.) But Mizzou should be pretty good at forcing passing downs, and if the Tigers get to Murphy in the backfield, there will be a lot of punting in Florida's future.

When Missouri Has The Ball…

Here's the deal: Maty Mauk is going to make, say, 4-5 pretty bad mistakes tomorrow. If those mistakes are of the "incompletion" or "armpunt" variety, Missouri probably wins. But if they result in turnovers that give Florida short fields from which to score, Missouri is probably toast. Mauk got away with a moderate mistake against Georgia -- checking down to Henry Josey before checking whether a defender was actually on Josey; he was, and Josey had to make an athletic catch to prevent a pick -- and he is bound to make more. He is a redshirt freshman against one of the two or three best defenses in the country. If his teammates can bail him out, Mizzou wins. He should be able to manage mistakes for the most part, but the ones he makes will decide the game.

Standard Downs
Missouri
Offense
UF
Defense
SD % Run 52.6%
S&P+ Rk 35th 3rd
Success Rate 54.7% 44.1%
PPP 0.66 0.44
S&P 1.206 0.878
Rushing S&P 1.134 0.773
Passing S&P 1.286 1.020

Florida's defense is just so damn sound. The Gators have three elite (or close to it) cornerbacks, and even without Dominique Easley, the tackles are well above average. When you've got good corners and tackles, you free up your play-makers -- your ends, your linebackers, and your safeties -- to, well, make plays.

Florida doesn't control the line quite as well without Easley, and I'm sure Missouri will be probing to see what kind of up-the-middle success it could have in running the ball. But considering the runs to the edge will likely get eaten up by Florida's speed, I'm curious to see if Mizzou utilizes one of its weapons more frequently than normal (and it already uses this weapon a ton): the quick pass to the sideline.

Line up in trips, have two guys blocking, and throw to the third guy. (Or line up with two wide and have one blocking.) We've seen Missouri do this constantly this year -- it's how Mizzou is one of the most pass-happy teams in the country on standard downs without actually taking that many risky shots downfield -- and it will test Florida's corners in a way that goes beyond pure man-to-man coverage. If Missouri is getting 5-7 yards on these types of passes, it could allow the Tigers to matriculate the ball and win the field position battle while putting Mauk in too many risky situations. That's something to watch early in the game. We know Missouri will do it because it's what Missouri does; but how frequently the Tigers do it, and how well they do it, will be very telling.

Targets & Catches
L'Damian Washington: 29 targets, 27 catches, 309 yards (10.7 per target)
Dorial Green-Beckham: 27 targets, 17 catches, 263 yards (9.7)
Marcus Lucas: 26 targets, 16 catches, 151 yards (5.8)
Bud Sasser: 11 targets, 8 catches, 93 yards (8.5)
Jimmie Hunt: 9 targets, 8 catches, 83 yards (9.2)
Jaleel Clark: 6 targets, 5 catches, 38 yards (6.3)
Darius White: 5 targets, 3 catches, 44 yards (8.8)

Passing Downs
Missouri
Offense
UF
Defense
PD % Run 36.6%
S&P+ Rk 23rd 1st
Success Rate 46.4% 17.7%
PPP 0.71 0.26
S&P 1.172 0.436
Rushing S&P 1.298 0.657
Passing S&P 1.099 0.344

I actually said "DAMN" out loud when I looked up Florida's passing downs data. Missouri has been really good on passing downs this year, better than at any point between 2009-12, basically. But Florida's defense just puts you in a chokehold. If you fall behind schedule, you just aren't going to catch up many times, especially with a redshirt freshman quarterback. Passing downs are play-maker downs, and while Missouri has a lot of them, Florida makes every offense look like Kansas' on such downs. Avoid them at all costs.

Targets & Catches
Lucas: 14 targets, 13 catches, 140 yards (10.0 per target)
DGB: 12 targets, 9 catches, 133 yards (11.1)
Washington: 10 targets, 8 catches, 128 yards (12.8)
Sasser: 5 targets, 3 catches, 23 yards (4.6)

Summary

So here are the key factors, then:

1. STAY. ON. SCHEDULE. Second-and-8 is terrifying against Florida. Third-and-9 is fatal. Missouri has to stay on schedule, get yards on first downs, and avoid putting its new quarterback in position to make awful mistakes (as quarterbacks are wont to do on passing downs). Runs up the middle, quick passes to the outside ... these things need to work pretty well.

2. Don't bite. If Missouri can stop the Florida run mostly with its front seven, mostly playing its vanilla cover-2 with deep safeties on standard downs, then the Tigers should force a pretty high percentage of passing downs. And honestly, I think the Tigers will force passing downs regardless; but a couple of big pass plays on first down, or second-and-short, could be big. Field position is at a premium in this game, and while big plays are always the most important things in a college football game, that's doubly true in this one. Florida is at its scariest on the rare occasion that it passes on standard downs. Stop those, and Florida won't score very much.

3. Live to play another down. Maty Mauk will make mistakes. Avoid the fatal ones and win.

Franklin's injury makes this a 50-50 game. Because I'm a homer, I'll call 24-20 Mizzou. What say you?

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