Missouri’s loss to Florida last year was the most infuriating game - for me, anyway - because the Gators were not good. Barely better than Missouri, to be exact. Having a starting NFL-caliber quarterback helped paper over a lot of offensive deficiencies and the defense was, essentially, less than than mediocre at everything.
In the preview I did this summer one of the things that stood out was the massive number of transfers out and the accompanying transfers in that occurred during the offseason. At the time I said that the move made total sense and, as we saw in Columbia, could absolutely work to have a quick, one year improvement.
Folks...that didn’t happen.
Florida’s 2022 offense ranked 24th in SP+; 2023’s version currently ranks 29th. Florida’s 2022 defense ranked 69th; 2023’s version is currently at 62nd. The individual smaller stats are fluctuated a bit but the story is the same as last year: Florida can run the ball decently well, is overly reliant on explosive pass plays, and doesn’t have a defense that can reliably stop opponents. At the flagship university of the state of Florida.
The 2023 version also doesn’t play very well. They hit 100% postgame win expectancy three times this year, all against overmatched opponents in McNeese, Charlotte, and Vanderbilt. Their shocking win over Tennessee earned them an 83% postgame win expectancy but all other games - including a squeaker against South Carolina - had win expectancies under 30%, including a 0% against Georgia and 1% against LSU.
They’re beatable, that’s the the main point I’m making here. They’re 1-4 in games outside of Gainesville, 1-3 against SP+ Top 25 teams, 0-2 against SP+ Top 25 defenses, and 0-3 against SP+ Top 25 teams on the road...all of which is the scenario they face on Saturday.
Still...you need to play the game to win as Florida isn’t interested in forfeiting. So here are the keys to the game.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Florida’s defensive front seven are veterans at this point, with every starter in at least his third year of playing college football. The secondary, on the other hand, is super young, relying on three guys who are second-year players or younger, with the oldest being a fourth year junior. As such, the Gator run defense is fairly stout but the pass defense and ability to stop explosive plays in bottom 15 or worse across the board. It’s a great opportunity for the receivers to run amuck and Muscle Hamster Schrader to bust some big ones.
I’m sure my goals are starting to sound repetitive but when your team has an offense that operates best when generating explosives...and they keep playing defenses that give up explosives, it’s hard not to make as one of the main goals, right? Like Tennessee last week the big plays on offense can be enough to undo any good defensive work done during an individual drive, but - unlike the Vols - the Gator defense is bad enough that Mizzou should be able to log many big plays. I’ll get a little more granular this time and say that the Tigers need to generate six (6) explosive run plays and seven (7) explosive pass ing plays.
Win the Field Position Battle
Florida currently has the 9th-best special teams unit in the country, thanks to Top 30 punting and kickoff units and the 5th-best kick return player in the country in Trevor Etienne. One way a better team can lose in surprising fashion is to fall asleep in “The Little Things” department, such as starting field position and punt efficiency. As long as Mevis and Craig can get the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs and Luke Bauer can crack 40 yards on an average punt, Mizzou should be ok. The goal, then, is to keep the average starting field position within +/- 2 yards, OR +5 for Mizzou.
Finish your dang drives
Always always always. I’m once again thinking this one will be decided in the 30s so let’s say 6 scoring opportunities and at least 5 points per scoring opportunity.
When Florida Has the Ball
It is jarring to see multiple National Championship winning Florida start so many middling three stars on offense. Yes, I’m aware of the caveats - Dan Mullen sucked at recruiting, Billy Napier brought over a bunch of guys from his previous school in Lafayette, a bunch of dudes portalled out and a bunch more portalled in - but for a blue blood like Florida to be trotting out an offensive starting roster that is 72% three stars and a walk-on? Very weird.
Stop the run
Florida is a slower, worse version of Tennessee; completely predicated on the ground game doing everything and hoping for a few big pass plays to get them out of a jam. Missouri did well against a Tennessee ground game that was averaging a 50+% success rate on the ground and held them to 38% in their matchup. Mizzou should see this Gator ground game that averages a 46.5% success rate and hold them under 40% this week.
Get them into passing downs
All Florida wants to do is run 10-12 plays per drive over 10 drives and hope to have more points at the end. Despite being a much better running team than passing team they have some of the lowest run rates in the country. Why? Because this insist on having Graham Mertz throw passes at or behind the line on 1st-down and then run it on 2nd. In fact, theyir 39% rate of passes thrown with 0 air yards ranks 2nd in the country, and Mertz almost exclusively targets his inline receivers and running backs. So, then, the plan is to knock them off schedule and force them to throw deep or waste a play by running/throwing short. A 20% run stuff rate should be a good indicator of that task being completed.
No matter how good of a season Mizzou is having, they’re still Mizzou; opponents still think that they ain’t any good and should be able to handily beat them. And if they don’t? Their coach gets fired! Personally I think it’s great that teams absolutely lose their freaking minds when they lose to Missouri, it’s one of the more fun experiences to watch from a distance.
But, again, Missouri is Missouri. No matter how good of a season they are having the game still needs to be played, effort given, and dominance asserted to earn the W at the end. This staff has done an excellent job of keeping Mizzou focused so I have confidence they will do so again.
It’s senior night! Let’s win one for the old dudes!