The Missouri Tigers (8-2, 4-2 SEC) will look for their ninth win of the season on Senior Night as they host the Florida Gators (5-5, 3-4 SEC) in an important game to keep their NY6 bowl hopes alive.
It is a primetime game at Faurot Field with the kick-off set for 6:30 p.m. CST on ESPN with Joe Tessitore and Jesse Palmer on the call.
To get a perspective on this Florida team, we talked it over with Jackson Reyes who covers the Gators for The Alligator.
Here’s the Q&A to get you ready for the game:
Sammy Stava: Sitting at 5-5, how disappointing has this season been for the Gators especially after back-to-back 6-7 seasons. What were the expectations coming into this season – and how hot is head coach Billy Napier’s seat right now?
Jackson Reyes: Preseason expectations were not super high for Billy Napier in year two. He had the program moving in the right direction when they were 5-2 heading into Georgia, but a three-game losing streak and a possibility of missing bowl eligibility is admittedly been a letdown for a team that started so successful. A 6-6 or 7-5 finish felt on par for year two under Napier, but a 5-7 finish with five straight losses feels like a real possibility. The last time UF finished with three straight losing seasons was 1945-1947, so the team likely needs a big upset and a bowl win to avoid history. Despite all of this, I don’t believe Napier is on the hot seat just yet. While he won’t get many seasons like this, I still think Florida gives him time to bring his recruits in to try and turn around the program.
SS: Florida’s struggles haven’t been because of Wisconsin transfer quarterback Graham Mertz. In 10 games this season, he has a 73.3 completion percentage with 2,720 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions. How would you grade his performance leading up to this point?
JR: I would grade his performance as a “B” at this point of the season. He’s surpassed season expectations that saw him ranked as low as the last quarterback in the SEC. Mertz has done a good job of running Napier’s offense and has been great at protecting the football. He hasn’t pushed the ball down field a lot this season, and when he has, his accuracy hasn’t always been the best. Overall, he’s had a career season at Florida, and if the Gators are going to go bowling, he’s going to have to continue his steady consistent play.
SS: Sophomore running back Trevor Etienne had three TDs for 99 yards on 18 carries in the 52-35 loss last week to LSU. Do you think he has the potential to find similar success on the ground against a strong Mizzou defensive line unit?
JR: I believe Trevor Etienne will still find success against a tough defense in Mizzou. When he’s been healthy this season, he’s managed to have strong games against teams like Tennessee and Arkansas and even averaged six yards per carry in limited action against Georgia. If Florida struggles in the trenches, then I think Etienne could get slowed down, but he has the ability to break off a big run against almost any defense in the country.
SS: Other than Mertz and Etienne, who are some names to watch for Florida on the offensive side of the ball? Who on the defensive side has made an impact this season?
JR: Wide receivers Ricky Pearsall and Eugene “Tre” Wilson have been the standouts in the passing game. Pearsall’s broken his career collegiate highs in receptions and receiving yards and has also snagged four touchdown catches. The senior receiver has been one of the better receivers in the SEC and continually makes great catches each week. Wilson has been the breakout freshman this season. UF has made an emphasis to get him the ball however they can. He’s used a lot in screen passes to let him go to work with the ball in space. He’s caught 51 passes for 479 yards and five touchdowns.
Edge rusher Princely Umanmielen and safety Jordan Castell have been two of the impact players on defense. Umanmielen has compiled 35 tackles this season. He’s also wreaked havoc in the backfield with 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks — both career highs. His numbers haven’t been the most flashy, but his 23.3% pass-rush win rate leads Power 5 among all edge rushers.
Freshmen have featured heavily on defense for UF, and Castell has led the pack. He’s accounted for 55 tackles this season, which is tied for first on the team. He nabbed his first interception against Arkansas Nov. 4 and has added three pass deflections.
SS: Florida will still be playing for bowl eligibility, but how much does that matter for this fan base and program. After three straight losses (especially with the loss vs Arkansas), is it fair to question this team’s motivation heading into this one?
JR: I still think making a bowl game is important to the fan base despite a disappointing finish to the season. The Gators haven’t missed a bowl game since 2017, and most fans probably want to keep that streak alive. The chance at finishing 7-6 would still be a solid finish and meet most preseason expectations, even if it was on an unusual road to get there. A bowl game also helps keep the program more relevant and shows future recruits that even in a “rebuilding” year, the team is still competing for bowl games.
I think that’s a fair assertion that there could be some loss of motivation, but I don’t believe it will be a massive falloff. Despite the frustration from the losing streak, the players still look determined to make a bowl game. The team can also change the complexion of the season with an upset against a top ten team in Mizzou or Florida State, or even possibly both, which could lead to extra sources of motivation.
SS: Missouri is currently an 11.5-point favorite. How do you see this game going on Saturday? Have a final score prediction?
JR: Missouri is a very talented team from top to bottom, but I do think Florida can keep it close for a while. The Gators’ offense has looked much better as the season has gone on, which can keep them in the game. However, Florida’s defense has moved in the opposite direction, which I could see ultimately help Mizzou pull ahead and get its ninth win of the season.
I see Florida making it a game for at least three quarters, but the Tigers’ offensive firepower of Luther Burden and Cody Schrader will be too much to overcome, and Mizzou makes it a four-game losing streak for the Gators.