Now that we’ve established that Missouri can stay close with any team by playing ugly - and we know that playing ugly is the only way this staff will play - we can mentally prepare ourselves for Missouri pulling off some wins that it should not win and losses that it should not lose. Are you ready? I know I am!
The first test in our new mindset is the Florida Gators on the road. Billy Napier’s rebuild project is going...ok? I guess? They did knock off a Top 10 Utah team in the first week of the year but, like Missouri, have a tendency of being overly reliant on explosive plays and tend to keep games tight. To wit, the Gators are 2-1 in one score games with a 10-point loss to Kentucky and a 35-point win over Eastern Washington on Sunday.
The good news is that this is a “short week” for them as Hurricane Ian postponed their annual FCS beatdown to a day later. The bad news is that it was an FCS opponent and the starters didn’t have to play much.
Here’s the preview I did earlier this year. They aren’t all that great but are at home and are well rested after their Sunday scrimmage. You’re not going to believe this as I type it out but Florida is Missouri with a worse defense. Here, let me show you:
When Missouri Has the Ball
Florida’s defense is a bit of a mess right now. Despite having three 5-star talents and a litany of 4-stars in its ranks, the Gators rank 71st in defense according to SP+ thanks to the 125th-ranked rushing defense, 106th-ranked passing defense, and countless other metrics where they rank 70th or worse. There’s only one thing they do really well and its the one that Missouri is particularly bad at so don’t get your hopes up too high.
Ground and Pound
If you like stringing together 10-12 play drives, Florida’s defense will let you do that. If you like to uncork massive 20+ yard plays to victory, Florida’s defense will let you do that. If you like having your quarterback have plenty of time to throw with little harassment, Florida’s defense will let you do that. And since Eli Drinkwitz’s offense is predicated on showing looks based off of the run game and building different plays off of that, it’s paramount that the Tigers reliably establish the ground game as a threat. It’s time they get back to their old ways and average a 45% or better success rate on the ground.
We’re five games into the season so this is no longer a bug but a feature. This team commits penalties at the most inopportune times, and on offense most noticeably. All 11 guys on the field need to make sure that the false starts, holds, and all that other junk is mitigated or eliminated so that scoring drives don’t get derailed. I hate that this is a key to the game but, well, that’s just where we are. Keep the offensive penalties under five for the game.
Finish your dang drives
And here we are: The one thing that this Florida defense is really good at is stopping opponents from scoring touchdowns, ranking 59th in goal-to-go TD scenarios and holding offenses to 3.7 points per scoring opportunity. As you might remember, 3.7 is what Missouri averaged against Georgia and they lost by 4. I would expect Missouri to generate 6-7 scoring opportunities against this defense and they need to aim for at least 4.5 points per opportunity.
When Florida Has the Ball
Missouri’s offense is an inefficient strugglebus that is bailed out by random big plays and Florida’s offense is nearly identical to Missouri’s. Much like Connor Bazelak of yore, Anthony Richardson hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass until Week 4 against Tennessee... and they played a terrible South Florida team before that! So the defensive keys are really easy to identify here:
Eliminate Big Plays
You know this Missouri defense by now: they eliminate the easy stuff and occasionally give up the big stuff. Florida’s offense can’t generate easy stuff and only succeeds in connecting on big plays that go a long way. Because of this there’s a good chance this game will feel like Missouri is dominating Florida’s offense but letting them off the hook a few times per drive...and the key is to mitigate the damage when that happens. Keep Florida’s offense under 7 explosive plays for the game.
We know this defense can create havoc, but to put this game away early and take the crowd out of it, the Tigers are going to need to generate some turnovers like they did against Georgia. Getting up a few scores and forcing Anthony Richardson to get desperate and throw is a recipe for a delicious Missouri victory. Missouri should aim for at least two turnovers.
We’ve all joked that Eli Drinkwitz Missouri team are ineligible to win on the road thanks to his terrible track record away from Faurot. Looking under the hood at the advanced stats for Florida is giving me this really weird feeling in my stomach...not indigestion, but...like...positivity? Whether it’s run-off from the inspired Georgia performance or just the stark weaknesses in this Gator squad, I think the Missouri team we saw on Saturday can march into The Swamp and shut down Florida for a comfortable win. However, we all know that college football teams are rarely consistent and the style that Missouri plays leaves wide variances of outcomes. Hope that what we saw Saturday is replicated and the Tigers can leave with a rare road win.
And as an added quirk: the series between Missouri and Florida has seen the teams trade two-game winning streaks since 2012. Florida won in ‘19 and ‘20, and Missouri won last year. So...