It’s been an interesting few weeks for your Missouri football Tigers.
They outlasted one of the worst teams in all of college football with a brand new coach that’s tearing the program down to the studs and trying to rebuild.
Then they put up a fight for 15 minutes before one of the greatest college football teams ever assembled figured out the new wrinkles and snuffed out any hope in a 37-point beat down.
Last week Missouri played a similar flawed, rebuilding team as itself and performed much better than the score would indicate for a confidence-boosting win.
And, now, Mizzou faces a once-mighty Florida Gators squad that has all but given up after allowing a mid-tier FCS team to put up 530 yards and 52 points.
Will Muschamp had two strong years in Gainesville before completely falling apart in Year Three - including a loss to then-FCS juggernaut Georgia Southern who didn’t even attempt a pass during the game - before finally getting the axe after a loss to South Carolina.
Jim McElwain won the SEC East in his first two years at the helm of the Gators before scuffling to a middling record in his third year and making false claims about players receiving death threats. He was fired midway through the season.
And now we have Dan Mullen. This crybaby has ridden McElwain’s recruits to 10-win seasons and SEC East crowns but has fallen apart in Year Three, including such demerits as insisting on having Todd Grantham as a DC, allowing recruiting to fall into the 20s, and letting an FCS team run roughshod all over his beautiful blue chip athletes.
And now, these Gators - the ones who let Samford look unstoppable and got their butts whipped by a South Carolina team that was outclassed by Missouri last week - head north to the frigid tundra of Columbia, MO with a seemingly lame-duck head coach and a low-tier bowl game on the line.
You’d think this game goes to whoever “wants it more” but that’s not always how college football works.
Here’s what Florida has done so far:
There’s nothing wrong with losing to Alabama and Georgia. You can even say that the Kentucky loss was close and understandable. But Florida should not be losing to the 2021 version of LSU and certainly should not be losing to South Carolina. Or allowing Samford to put up 52.
Here’s the update to Mizzou’s season so far:
Missouri has beaten teams currently ranked 92nd, 108th, 120th, and 78th in SP+. Any team that ranks 60th or better has won. Which is why I’m not totally sold on Missouri being able to beat Florida as it would be a huge departure from the norm. Any team that has comparable or better athletes has handled Missouri just fine; Florida has those athletes.
At the same time...SAMFORD.
But IF Missouri is going to pull this off here’s what they’re going to have to do.
When Missouri Has the Ball
That’s a lot of stars next to Florida’s defenders, right? Samford put up 52 points and and 530 yards on them. Not sure if that’s been mentioned yet.
Look...I know it. You know it. Florida knows it. Missouri’s only offensive weapon is Tyler Badie and so he’ll get somewhere between 30-40 touches for the game (barring injury). The good news is that Florida’s defense stinks at stopping the run. I’m talking about the 100th-ranked rushing defense. The one that gives up 4-yard gains on the ground 50% of the time. The one who can’t get a tackle for loss to save their life (99th). The one that can’t get offenses to 3rd-down and, if they do, lets them off the hook. Yes, Tyler Badie will get his carries and, yes, Florida will try to stop it. But if things go as they should, Badie should have a 50% success rate on the ground to keep the Gator defensed gassed and on the field.
Florida’s offense likes to give defenses the ball. A lot. On the season Florida has thrown 15 interceptions and lost 3 fumbles. The only team that has more turnovers than Florida quarterbacks is Arizona. What does that mean? The Gators defense needs turnovers to win. In fact, in their five wins the Florida has a turnover margin of -1 while, in their five losses, that turnover margin goes down to -7. Missouri’s own quarterback also has a knack for throwing interceptions to conference opponents with alarming frequency and, if Missouri wants to win, that just can’t happen. It sounds extreme but that’s how you beat teams that are way more talented than you: Missouri cannot afford a single turnover against the Gator defense.
Finish your dang drives
Like always! Florida’s special teams rank 118th in the country but have only attempted two (2!) field goals on the year! Why? Because, when they score, they score touchdowns. Harrison Mevis gives Missouri solid chances at banking points once they cross the 50 but the Tigers are going to need to get the 6-point type of scores and not settle for the 3-point type of scores. 7 scoring opportunities with at least 5 points per opportunity is the goal.
When Florida Has the Ball
Here’s the big test for Steve Wilks’ rejuvenated defense. Florida’s offense is the best offense they’ve seen all year and can do almost anything they want with ease. If the Tigers can bottle up this running game then we’ll know that this defense is legit.
Throw Them Off Schedule
Florida is an efficiency-based offense. They don’t really rattle off explosive plays in either the run or passing games, preferring to go 3- or 4-yards at a time and chip away at a defense over 12-14 plays. Given their athleticism it’s actually a really weird way to play but the limitations of Emory Jones (and Anthony Richardson) in the passing game is the cause of that. Neither is very good at reading complex defensive schemes, instead relying on their own athleticism (and that of their receivers) to make plays. The Gators are about 505-0 in the run-pass splits on standard downs but run the ball 45% of the time on passing downs (11th in the country). Missouri’s front six have done a much better job of clogging up all avenues of advance for opposing offenses and need to do the same here. Florida is one of the worst offenses in the country at going 3-and-out and the Tigers need to keep standard down success rates at under 50% for the game.
Limit the Big Plays
Remember how Missouri kept letting South Carolina off the hook with big plays on 3rd-downs? Yeah...it’s still an issue. The Tigers are one of the worst defenses in the country at giving up big plays and 3rd-down conversions but Florida doesn’t really generate a ton of big plays to begin with. They do, however, tend to have their explosive plays occur in 3rd-down situations. So this could very much be another frustrating day at the office but the key to success here is to limit the damage. Florida doesn’t give up sacks but, as mentioned earlier, does give up a ton of turnovers so if the Tigers defense can make the Gators go more than 12 plays per drive then somewhere, somehow, a turnover could occur. If the Tigers can keep the Gators to under 6 explosive plays it should mean good things.
It’s the last home game of the 2021 season and 24 seniors will be putting on the home jerseys for the last time. Florida seems completely checked out but are absolutely the better team when they’re focused and motivated. If the Tigers can pounce early or get a turnover in the first two drives and knock out their interest early then it should set up for a positive finish for the good guys. If Florida wants to make a game of it, though, then this could easily be a high-scoring affair.
I’m not sure how this one is going to go but I’ll leave you with this: since joining the SEC, Missouri and Florida have traded off victories in pairs. Missouri in ‘13, and ‘14, Florida in ‘15 and ‘16, etc.
Florida beat Missouri in ‘19 and ‘20. Ok bye.