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2019 Season Opponents Preview: Florida Gators

Being the Kentucky to Florida’s Missouri

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Florida vs Michigan Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators

Last Season: 10-3 (5-3)

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Florida
Millionaire yells at his unpaid labor
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach: Dan Mullen – 2nd year (former Mississippi State HC)

Overall Record: 79-49 (38-42)

School Record: 10-3 (5-3)

Offensive Coordinator: Billy Gonzales – 2nd year (former Mississippi State Co-OC) & John Hevesy – 2nd year (former Mississippi State Co-OC)

Defensive Coordinator: Todd Grantham – 2nd year (former Mississippi State DC)

Last Game Against Mizzou: 2018 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, lost 38-17

This Year: at Faurot Field – Columbia, MO – November 16th, TBD

Projected Overall S&P+ Rank: 6th

Projected Offensive S&P+ Rank: 8th

Projected Defensive S&P+ Rank: 11th

Returning Production: 74% – 77% Offense, 71% Defense (26th in the nation)

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Florida vs Michigan
He’s not going to win the Heisman but he definitely has the pose down
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Players to Watch

-Feleipe Franks – QB – JR: 188-322 (58.4%)/2,457 yards/2 TDs/6 INTs/15 sacks/7.02 ypa

-95 rushes/441 yards/7 TDs/4.64 ypc/48.4% OPP rate/5 fumbles

-Lamical Perine – RB – SR: 134 rushes/826 yards/7 TDs/6.16 ypc/53.7% OPP rate/1 fumble

-17 targets/13 catches (76.5%)/170 yards/1 TD/13.1 ypc/10 ypt/4.8% tr

-Van Jefferson – WR – SR: 72 targets/35 catches (48.6%)/503 yards/6 TDs/14.4 ypc/7 ypt/20.3% tr

NCAA Football: Missouri at Florida
Jeawon Taylor hitching a ride on the O Phrasing.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Players to Watch

-Jabari Zuniga – DE – SR: 31 tackles/17 solo/11 TFLs/6.5 sacks/0 INTs/0 PBUs/0 FFs/35.5% HAVOC

-David Reese II – WLB – SR: 51.5 tackles/23 solo/2.5 TFLs/0 sacks/0 INTs/0 PBUs/0 FFs/4.9% HAVOC

-Jeawon Taylor – S – SR: 42 tackles/23 solo/0 TFLs/0 sacks/0 INTs/2 PBUs/0 FFs/4.8% HAVOC


If there’s any benefit to the absolute nonsensical issue Missouri has with Kentucky, it’s that the other side of that coin is of equal nonsense but actually benefits our Tigers. The Kentucky yin has a yang called Florida, and wow, that one is as tough to understand as the Kentucky quandary is. Missouri has gone against three Will Muschamp-coached Florida squads, three coached by Jim McElwain and one against Dan Mullen, and the Tigers are an unfathomable 5-3 against the Gators. Part of that, again, is how Florida has been constructed: we didn’t have to go against Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp’s Florida teams were constructed to play close games (and only close games), Jim McElwain had a questionable ability to field a competent quarterback/offense, and Dan Mullen was, of course, rebuilding the roster last year. But here we are, owning the overall series against a school that is 20th in the country in all-time wins, winner of 8 SEC Championships, 3 National titles, and has 3 Heisman winners. I definitely don’t believe our lead will last, but it’s certainly fun to enjoy it while it lasts. After all, we are Missouri fans; the swift kick to the crotch is just around the corner.

The 2019 Gators should (ahem, should) be the heir apparent for the SEC East crown if Georgia stumbles. They return 74% of last year’s production, which is 26th in the nation, and is the second-most that a team will field against Missouri this year. They also return almost their entire coaching staff, which shipped east from Mississippi State when Dan Mullen took the Florida gig. The only new staff members are David Turner at d-line and Torrian Gray at corners. This is just a long way of saying the Gators have continuity on top of their talent and that’s a recipe for tremendous success this upcoming season.

It all starts with quarterback Feleipe Franks. The third-year starter out of Wakulla High School in Crawfordville, FL has had an up and down career so far, bottoming out against (surprise!) Missouri last year when he went just 9-22 (40%) for 84 yards. After that, however, against South Carolina, Idaho, Florida State and Michigan, he went 63-97 (65%) for 862 yards and 8 touchdowns with zero interceptions. That’s what Mullen and his coordinators are banking on this year, and there’s a good supporting cast featuring 77% of last year’s production to help Franks achieve that steadiness. Lamical Perine returns at running back, and although they lose Jordan Scarlett to the Carolina Panthers, they still have blue chip runner Dameon Pierce who ran for over 400 yards his freshman year, as well as three other highly ranked underclassmen. The top seven receivers return, headlined by the all-or-nothing Van Jefferson (500 yards, 6 TDs, 48% catch rate), and the entire receiving corps is upperclassmen at this point which bodes well for passing success. The one weakness is that the offensive line loses everybody except Nick Buchanan, their center. There are a lot of decent career backups that are older, but o-line success has never been about ranking or experience— more about cohesion. Starting all over with experienced backups is not a guaranteed good thing for any offense (the 2015 Missouri offensive line waves hello), but by the time the Tigers play Florida they should have their lineup figured out, barring any catastrophic injuries. This is projected to be a Top 10 offense even with the massive o-line overhaul.

Let’s talk about Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham for a second. He’s known as an emotional guy. This is what he looks like:

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Louisville
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Todd Grantham was a defensive line coach for Virginia Tech and Michigan State in the 90s before doing the same (and adding coordinator duties) in the NFL for ten years. He came back to the college ranks with Mark Richt at Georgia, then Louisville, then finally teamed up with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Here are those teams’ defensive S&P+ rankings:

-2010 Georgia: 36th

-2011 Georgia: 43rd

-2012 Georgia: 15th

-2013 Georgia: 33rd

-2014 Louisville: 9th

-2015 Louisville: 21st

-2016 Louisville: 15th

-2017 Mississippi State: 18th

-2018 Florida: 17th

Not too shabby, huh? After an early breaking-in period, he’s had consistently great defenses. However, there’s one little thing about ol’ Todd here that pretty much everyone in the coaching community knows and loves to exploit. It’s called, “3rd and Grantham”. You see, because Todd is so… emotional… he gets easily excited when it’s third and long and loves to make big, aggressive plays. When he wants to make a big aggressive play, he picks the angriest play he can find. And when he lands on the angriest play he can find, it usually means he blitzes the mother forking house on you. And opposing coordinators? Oh yeah, they know it:

Average Grantham defense Standard Downs rank: 18th

Average Grantham defense Passing Downs rank: 84th

Oh, Todd.

Now, whether he is aware of this is up for debate, but as pointed out by The Athletic’s Seth Emerson, Florida game notes actually cite “3rd and Grantham” as a positive thing in their media guides. Regardless, if Grantham maintains this style, he’ll have lots of overall success, but also flashes of explosive burns (Florida was 68th in explosive plays given up), so it’ll be interesting to see if anything changes this year.

The defense returns 71% of their 2018 production despite losing 6 key contributors from last year’s squad. The main reason for that phenomenon is that Grantham played a lot of guys to work their depth; a whopping 9 guys saw regular rotation on the line (they lose three of them), the linebacking corps featured 7 guys (lost two from last year), and an 8-man secondary loses their starting “STAR”-safety and a backup corner. Playing that many guys helps alleviate production lost and keeps them fresh throughout a game. It hampers individual stats to a certain extent (the top tackler only had 65 tackles), but when you’re a blue-blood program like Florida, it only makes sense to play a wide rotation. This line was deadly in producing sacks, especially on early downs, but was willing to give you yards on the ground. As mentioned previously, they were susceptible to third downs, so there’s always hope even if they get you behind the chains. This group will obviously be talented, but if the tactics don’t change (and the blitzes don’t hit home), then they can keep you in the game.

The history of the Missouri-Florida matchup is a series of twos: Missouri loses two, wins two, loses two, etc. So, in that sense, we’re due for a loss. And frankly, we have no business having a winning record against a team like Florida, but HEY, it’s certainly nice while it lasts. This is another measuring stick game: Florida has been given a lot of credit in the offseason and should be in place to make a run at the SEC East. However, they’re seemingly always in that position and haven’t always delivered. Every year, they have way more talent and depth than we do, but that hasn’t hindered us before. If the Tigers are as good as we think they’ll be, this should be an excellent game and a golden opportunity to climb the ranks while extending the winning streak one more year.