The Missouri offense comes into Saturday ranking No. 12 in the Southeastern Conference with 21.4 points per game. In the SEC, the Tigers are last in rushing offense (119.4 yards), No. 10 in pass offense (203 yards) and last in total offense (322.4 yards).
With Maty Mauk’s suspension lasting at least through the Florida game, freshman Drew Lock will earn the second start of his career. Against South Carolina last week, Lock went 21-28 for 136 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. However, the South Carolina pass defense currently ranks 12th in the SEC and averages allowed 218.8 passing yards per game. He became the first freshman quarterback to start at Missouri since 1995.
Lock isn’t the running threat that Mauk has been in recent years. While Mauk could be a threat to scramble when a play breaks down, Lock is more of a pocket passer.
The question here is the health of Russell Hansbrough. The senior running back has just 24 carries this year because of a sprained right ankle. He has 24 carries on the season, but 11 of them came last week against South Carolina for 43 yards. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said this week that Hansbrough should be 100 percent this week against Florida, but sprained ankles can be tricky for running backs to fully heal from. A career 2,000-yard rusher, Hansbrough is a difference maker when healthy.
In his place, Ish Witter has taken a majority of the carries for the offense. He has 279 rushing yards and one touchdown this season. The sophomore from Tampa should still be involved this weekend.
Nate Brown is the leading receiver for Missouri, but the Tigers have five receivers between 101-192 receiving yards. Brown leads the team in catches (17), yards (192) and touchdowns (4). J’Mon Moore is a redshirt sophomore that is starting to see more action this year, adding 173 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Besides a 78-yard touchdown catch by Tyler Hunt, the Tigers haven’t hit a pass play bigger than a 32-yard touchdown to Wesley Leftwich, which came against Arkansas State.
Sean Culkin, a Florida native, is out for this game. Culkin has third on the team in catches and fifth in yardage, but he is hurt and won’t play. That pushes Clayton Echard into starting duties.
Echard, a redshirt senior, has one catch for six yards this year.
The best unit on the Missouri offense is the offensive line. The group goes into Saturday with 103 career starts, and 99 of those come from four positions. Left tackle Connor McGovern has started all five games at the position this year and goes into Saturday with 33 career starts. Left guard Brad McNulty will make just his second start of the season on Saturday, but he has played in 38 games over his five-year Missouri career.
Center Evan Boehm is six starts away from setting the Missouri all-time record for starts in a career. He has started 45 straight games, with 33 of them at center and 12 at left guard. The All-SEC Third Team selection is the leader of the group.
At right guard, Mitch Hall started five games last season and has started the first four this year. He transferred from Ole Miss in 2012 and has played in 31 games. Right tackle Nate Crawford, a Pensacola product, is in his first season as the starter. He suffered an ankle injury against Kentucky and missed last week’s win over South Carolina, but Crawford is expected to return to the starting lineup on Saturday against Florida.
The Tigers rank No. 1 in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing just 12 points per game. Missouri ranks No. 6 in rushing defense (109.4 yards), No. 1 in total defense (263.6 yards) and No. 1 in pass defense (154.2 yards).
If there’s one thing you can count on from Missouri, it’s difference-making defensive linemen. This year is no different. In the last two years, the Tigers have lost Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Markus Golden and Shane Ray to the NFL, but they continue to restock the position.
With Golden and Ray gone after last year, it’s Walter Brady and Charlie Harris that have taken over for them. The duo has totaled 17 tackles for loss through five games, just one behind where Golden and Ray were at the same point last season. Brady and Harris have also combined for eight sacks and six quarterback hurries.
At defensive tackle, the Tigers start Josh Augusta and Terry Beckner, Jr., a true freshman that was a five-star recruit and chose to stay home at Missouri over Florida State. Beckner has three tackles for a loss while starting the last two games. Augusta has two tackles in each of the last two games against Kentucky and South Carolina.
Kentrell Brothers is one of the best linebackers in the country. The weak side linebacker is third in the nation and leads the SEC with 59 tackles. He suffered an ankle injury against Kentucky two weeks ago but played through it against South Carolina while recording seven tackles. Brothers has two interceptions and two blocked kicks so far this year.
Middle linebacker Michael Scherer and strong side linebacker Donavin Newsom have combined for 55 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Their best games came two weeks ago while combining for 16 tackles against Kentucky.
The Missouri secondary leads the country with seven interceptions, and three of those came against South Carolina on Saturday. Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton start at cornerback for the Tigers.
Dennis is a senior captain who intercepted a pass against South Carolina, his first of the season. Penton is third on the team with 24 tackles, adding 1.5 tackles for a loss and two pass breakups.
At safety, Anthony Sherrils and Ian Simon start for Missouri.
Sherrils intercepted a pass on a fake field goal by Connecticut in the final minute to clinch that game. He has made five tackles in each of the last two games against Kentucky and South Carolina.
Simon made three tackles against South Carolina, adding one interception and one pass breakup.