On Saturday (11:21 A.M., SEC TV), the #14 Missouri Tigers (6-0, 2-0) play host to the #22 Florida Gators (4-2, 3-1) in SEC action. Missouri is coming off of a 41-26 road win at Georgia, while Florida comes in off of a 6-17 loss at LSU.
As usual, Florida is very, very talented. The Gators are one-two in the SEC with Alabama in scoring defense and total defense. Florida's opponents have averaged just 4.2 yards/play against the Gators, consistent with the Gators' status as the best defense in the league. They're number one in the SEC against the run, and number one against the pass.
On offense, the Gators play into their defensive dominance by trying to control the football. Florida runs the football on two-thirds of their offensive plays, and the Gators leads the SEC in time of possession (37:05). The rub is that the Gators are not a great rushing team, averaging just 3.9 yards/carry thus far this season. But, because they've had pass protection issues, and now that they're playing with their back-up QB, it's run, run, run for the Gators. Earlier this week, Florida Head Coach Will Muschamp talked about offensive balance. He cited the need for his team to improve their pass protection, and he expressed a general unwillingness to rely too heavily on throwing the football when they've had problems with protection and execution in the passing game.
"We just have to communicate better on some things," explained Coach Muschamp, talking about trying to improve Florida's pass protection. "And again, it was across the board. It wasn't just the offensive line. But just communicate better, sit a little better, hold the pocket a little bit better, be more firm in the pocket, not as much push in the pocket, and there's multiple things we can improve upon from last Saturday."
Coach Muschamp also cited "some issues" with the Florida running backs in pass protection that he said they "have to clean them up." Then, he talked about Florida's run game.
"We just have to be more consistent in what we're doing," explained Coach Muschamp. "We have to create some more explosive runs. That's been the biggest issue to me in the run game this season, we haven't had as many explosive runs as we need to have, and we have to continue to create that……………………………………………….. I think we'd like to be more balanced (offensively), but I think a lot of that goes back to we're not getting explosive runs. That's where we've been different. We haven't gotten the long runs, and that's where we have to be different…………………………………………………… You have to protect if you want to throw it on every down. That's something that's been an issue………………………………………….. We're trying, from a protection standpoint, to make sure we're not going to give them negative plays…………………………………………... We need to throw the ball better. Absolutely! There's no question."
With a defense that's as dominant as Florida's, Coach Muschamp wants his offense to avoid mistakes and negative plays. He'd like to be able to get big plays out of their run game, and to run the ball well enough to allow for a conservative approach to throwing the football.
Florida comes in to Missouri with a back-up QB and back-up running backs. Yet, these are still very talented, high-caliber players.
In the run game, it appears that the Gators will rely heavily on 5'11" 215-pound red-shirt junior RB Mack Brown and 5'10" 214-pound true freshman RB Kelvin Taylor. On the season, Brown has rushed for 340 yards and 3 TDs on 91 carries (3.7 yards/carry). Taylor has earned the trust of the Florida coaching staff, and the very talented freshman has rushed for 98 yards on 16 carries (6.1 yards/carry).
"Assignment-wise and ball security, when you're able to do those two things, you give us more confidence to play you in game situations," explained Coach Muschamp regarding Taylor's increased role out of the backfield. "I thought he did a good job of that, and he deserved the opportunity to play."
Of course, the injury to starting RB Matt Jones has opened the door for Taylor, but he's a very talented running back with the potential for those explosive runs that Coach Muschamp says that the Gators need.
The other runner in the backfield for Florida is 6'2" 210-pound red-shirt junior QB Tyler Murphy, who has 122 yards and 2 TDs rushing on 34 carries (3.6 yards/carry), and who is 54-81-1 (67%) for 645 yards and 5 TDs (151.46 passer efficiency rating) through the air.
In Florida's run-oriented, ball-control offense, their three starting wide receivers have accounted for 70% of the Gators pass receptions. That trio includes 6'2" 225-pound senior Trey Burton (26 receptions for 310 yards and 1 TD), 5'9" 177-pound senior Solomon Patton (22 receptions for 380 yards and 4 TDs), and 6'2' 194-pound red-shirt junior Quinton Dunbar (20 reception for 283 yards).
The only other Florida player who is averaging as many as one reception per game is 5'11" 190-pound red-shirt sophomore RB Valdez Showers, who has 7 receptions for 35 yards and 1 TD on the season. Showers has the same number of carries as receptions on the season.
Up front on offense, Florida averages 6'4" and 309 pounds. Coach Muschamp talked about the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage.
"I think when you're winning the line of scrimmage, it generally means that you're stopping the run on defense, and you're able to run it on offense," said Coach Muschamp, who cited a strong relationship between winning in the run game and winning on the scoreboard.
Florida is scoring 21.8 points/game, and allowing opponents just 13.0 points/game. The Gators are scoring touchdowns on 44% of their red-zone opportunities, and they've converted on just 7-of-11 field goal attempts. That has led to a week-to-week competition for the placekicking job.
In addition, Coach Muschamp indicated earlier this week that he's changing punters, as well.
While Florida has experienced some difficulty in putting points on the board, their defense has made it even more of a struggle for their opposition to score.
As stated above, the Gators are ranked at or very near the top of the conference in most defensive categories. Opponents are averaging just 4.2 yards/play against Florida's defense. And, there's good reason that the Gators are so downright stingy. They have a lot of great players on that side of the football.
To begin with, Florida has an NFL prospect at nearly every position on defense, and NFL prospects as back-ups. They lost probably the top defensive tackle in the country to injury, when Dominique Easley went down, and as with any team, his back-ups aren't yet All-Americans, but the Gators have so much talent all over the field on defense that they've hardly skipped a beat.
To illustrate how talented Florida's defense is, 5'11" 192-pound true freshman corner Vernon Hargreaves III has 16 total tackles through 6 games, to go along with a team-leading 3 interceptions and 5 pass-break-ups, and he began the season as a back-up.
The only team to score as many as 21 points against Florida this season was Miami, and that was a game in which the Gators turned the football over 5 times. On the season, Florida's opponents are converting on just 27% of their third downs. And, Florida is the best red-zone defense in the conference.
If there is a chink in the armor of the Gators defense, one could look to the fact that Florida hasn't beaten a top offensive team, and their defense is built more on speed than on size. They lost the line of scrimmage at LSU, where the Bayou Bengals enjoyed a measure of success running inside the tackles.
Among Florida's many outstanding defenders are 6'0" 190-pound junior corner Loucheiz Purifoy, 6'0" 195-pound junior corner Marcus Robinson, 6'3" 266-pound sophomore LB/DE Dante Fowler, and 6'0" 188-pound senior safety Jaylen Watkins.
"They're really good," said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel, speaking about the Florida defense. "They're really, really good! I expected, not a big drop off from last year, but maybe a little drop off because of the players they lost (to the NFL Draft). But they do a great job. They have a system in place, a scheme. They're very well coached, very disciplined. He does a great job with that program…………………………………… They have a lot of great players. They're good up front. They're athletic. But they have a good system, the schemes that they use cause you a lot of problems……………………………………. They are a great defensive team, and they've done a great job of putting it together. They're really, really impressive! Look at their numbers. They're staggering."
(NCAA Ranking in Parentheses)
MIZZOU ______ CATEGORY _______FLORIDA(
515.7 (12)_______Total Offense_______ 367.8 (93)
239.3 (16)______ Rushing Offense_____ 178.5 (58)
276.3 (33)_______Passing Offense_____ 189.3 (101)
158.02 (15)______ Pass Efficiency_____ 145.12 (37)
45.7 (8)________ Scoring Offense______ 21.8 (102)
419.3 (83)_______ Total Defense_______ 235.3 (3)
126.2 (25)______ Rushing Defense______ 83.3 (4)
293.2 (113)___Passing Yds. Allowed____ 152 (3)
122.95 (53)_____ Pass Effic. Def.______ 85.52 (2)
23 (T-42)_______Scoring Defense_______ 13 (4)
1.5 (T-4)_______ Turnover Margin______ 0.3 (49)
0.519 (10)_____ 3rd Down Conv. Pct____ 0.466 (36)
0.667 (T-18)___ 4th Down Conv. Pct___ 0.625 (T-30)
0.391 (68)______3rd Conv Pct. Def. _____ 0.271 (8)
0.844 (56)______ Red Zone Offense____ 0.68 (T-114)
0.864 (83)______ Red Zone Defense____ 0.692 (T-13)
35.86 (89)________ Net Punting________ 36.09 (85)
5.92 (81)_________ Punt Returns_______ 11.43 (35)
22.9 (41)________Kickoff Returns______ 23.33 (38)
164 (T-10)_____First Downs Offense____ 120 (T-81)
131 (86)_______First Downs Defense_____ 84 (T-4)
5 (33)________ Fewest Penalties / Gm. ____ 7.83 (112)
30:50 (45)______ Time of Possession______ 37:04 (1)