Gainesville, FL – Coming off their first loss of the season, the eighth-ranked Florida Gators have little time to feel sorry for themselves as they play host to the Missouri Tigers this Saturday in an important SEC Eastern Division battle.
Missouri's first season in the SEC hasn't gone quite according to plan, as coach Gary Pinkel's squad is an even 4-4, and just 1-4 in conference. The Tigers opened the campaign with wins in two of their first three games, but then suffered setbacks in three of the next four, including two in a row to visiting teams Vanderbilt and Alabama. Mizzou did manage to claim its first SEC victory last weekend however, topping Kentucky (33-10) in what was the final leg of a three-game home stand.
Florida took a 7-0 record into last Saturday's conference clash with rival Georgia, and the Gators made too many mistakes and simply couldn't get anything going offensively as they fell in a 17-9 final. As a result, Florida will need Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) to lose to either Ole Miss or Auburn, while it will need to beat Missouri in its final SEC game of the regular season, if it is to have any shot at reaching the conference championship game. This tilt marks the start of a three-game home stand for Florida.
Missouri won the only previous meetings between these two schools, that coming in a 20-18 decision in the 1966 Sugar Bowl.
Scoring touchdowns on all three of Kentucky's fumbles last week, Missouri was able to secure its first SEC victory in relatively easy fashion. The Tigers didn't play a clean game themselves, but their mistakes (three turnovers) simply weren't as costly. It was the Mizzou run game that did the most damage, as Kendial Lawrence rushed for 108 yards and two TDs, while Marcus Murphy tallied 48 yards and a score on only eight carries. As for the passing attack, there wasn't much of one as Corbin Berkenstresser threw for only 71 yards with a pair of interceptions. The Tigers held a near-13 minute edge in time of possession, and they converted 10-of-16 third-down opportunities.
The Missouri defense allowed just 179 total yards to the Wildcats, including a mere 78 yards passing. As mentioned, they pounced on three fumbles and it could have been even more as Kentucky put the ball on the ground a total of six times. E.J. Gaines scooped up one of the drops and took it 13 yards for a TD midway through the fourth quarter. The Tigers permitted the visitors just one successful conversion on 12 third-down chances, and they got seven total tackles from Kenronte Walker and 3.5 TFL from Will Ebner.
For the season, Missouri is scoring (24.4 ppg) just a tad bit more than it allows (23.6 ppg), and the team ranks in the bottom half of all SEC squads in nearly every statistical category, including last in passing efficiency (107.4). That is due to the fact that both Berkenstresser and James Franklin have combined to throw just seven TD passes and the same number of interceptions. Franklin has been battling a knee injury, but the Tigers appear to have a better shot of winning with him at the helm. Lawrence has rushed for 632 yards and seven TDs, while Marcus Lucas is the team's leading receiver with 32 grabs for 327 yards and a pair of scores.
Missouri has proven to be more of a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to defensive stats, the Tigers giving up 334.0 ypg (138.5 ypg rushing, 195.5 ypg passing). Foes have scored 15 of their 24 TDs on the ground, and they've allowed those same opponents to convert just 30 percent of their third-down tries. A total of three players have logged at least 50 tackles, and the top guy, Sheldon Richardson, also paces the club in sacks (four) while ranking second in TFL (7.5) behind Ebner (11.0). The secondary has come up with only five interceptions, but the defense as a whole has been credited with 19 total takeaways.
Finally getting that first SEC win was huge for Missouri, and Pinkel praised his team for the overall effort.
"Well, it feels good to win. It always has; it always will. I was proud of our team and how we battled," He continued, "I'm pleased for our team and it's been weeks since there's been winning around here, so it's been tough. We have great challenges ahead of us, and we're excited about that. It's good to get back in the winning circle."
Florida turned the ball over six times in last week's showdown with Georgia in Jacksonville, and when the team did manage to hang onto the football it could muster just 266 yards of total offense, which included a mere 75 yards rushing. Jeff Driskel completed 15-of-27 passes for 191 yards, but he failed to throw a TD pass while being picked off twice and sacked five times. Jordan Reed led all UF receivers with five grabs for 74 yards, while Mike Gillislee spearheaded what there was of a rushing attack with 77 yards on 22 carries.
With the offense having all kinds of trouble, the Florida defense stepped up and did its best to help stem the tide by yielding just 273 total yards while picking off UGA quarterback Aaron Murray three times. The Bulldogs were just 1-of-10 on third-down conversion attempts, and Loucheiz Purifoy led the UF stand with eight tackles, six of which were solo efforts.
The Florida offense hasn't exactly lit it up this season, as the team averages just 27.5 ppg behind 339.9 ypg -- both of which rank in the bottom half of the SEC. Despite the lackluster overall numbers, Gillislee has rushed for 729 yards and seven TDs, while Driskell has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes with eight TDs and only three interceptions (all coming last week), and he has picked up 317 yards on the ground and scored four TDs himself. Reed is the leading receiver with 30 catches for 355 yards and three TDs.
The Gators have been rock solid on defense, giving up just 12.8 points and 280.9 yards per contest, which ranks them in the top-three in the league in both categories. They rank third and fourth against the run (100.5 ypg) and pass (180.4 ypg), respectively, and they are among the league leaders in interceptions (11) and third-down conversion defense (.259). The UF defense has only allowed four passing scores this season, and the team hasn't surrendered a TD of any kind in its first three SEC home games. Josh Evans paces the unit with 50 tackles, and the team as a whole has been credited with 47 TFL and 16 sacks.
Florida coach Will Muschamp spoke about the disappointment of losing the way the Gators did last week.
"When you turn the ball over six times, you're going to have a hard time beating anyone. We were inconsistent offensively, and the run game and pass game just couldn't seem to get any continuity going."
He then tried to lift his team a bit by saying, "I was disappointed with the result, but not the effort. Our guys played hard."