Friday November 2, 201210 Things to Watch: Gators vs. Missouri
The Gators look to rebound on Saturday against Missouri.
The Gators look to rebound on Saturday against Missouri.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If it had been up to the Gators, they would have played another game Sunday to quickly move past last week’s 17-9 loss to Georgia.
Instead, they had to wait a week before getting an opportunity to return to the field Saturday against Missouri.
Florida’s bid to clinch the SEC East title outright was wiped out by six turnovers. Now they need help to make it to Atlanta.
For now the Gators have tunnel vision on doing what they can do to make sure one loss doesn’t turn into two. Florida coach Will Muschamp is optimistic they won’t let the loss to Georgia linger.
“You turn the ball over 6 times, you face a lot of adversity in the game, and we’re driving to win the game on the last drive of the game,’’ Muschamp said this week. “With six turnovers, you should’ve walked out of there losing by four touchdowns, honestly. It says a lot of the character on our football team, what we’ve got going on in that locker room.’’
With Missouri in town for the first time, here are 10 things to watch in Saturday’s game:
BOUNCE BACK FACTOR
The Gators didn’t play well in the loss to Georgia but Muschamp said it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. That is not an issue. The Gators were focused and ready for the challenge in Jacksonville. However, they left their execution back in Gainesville and it cost them dearly.
The players and coaches have talked this week of their motivation to bounce back and finish the SEC portion of the schedule on a positive note. Missouri is a dangerous team that can move the ball. The Gators must be sharp defensively and get more out of the offense than against Georgia.
The Gators have an opportunity to finish 7-1 in the SEC and still have a shot at the East division title if Georgia loses to either Ole Miss or Auburn. While the perception of the Gators has certainly changed in recent weeks due to their surprising season, most close to the program would have taken a 7-1 SEC record in a heartbeat if offered at the start of the season.
Florida is still in line for a big bowl trip and if the Gators can win their next three games, it could feel like old times in Tallahassee in a few weeks if Florida and Florida State are both 10-1 and near the top of the polls.
The Gators committed a season-high six turnovers (four fumbles, two interceptions) against Georgia after coming into the game with only four all season.
There is no doubt they have been reminded of that fact more than six times this week in practice. Muschamp and the players have emphasized ball security at practice and meetings. They also know how good the Tigers are at forcing fumbles. Missouri leads the nation with 17 forced fumbles and has at least one takeaway in 26 consecutive games.
Missouri forced five Kentucky fumbles a week ago and recovered three.
Florida’s revamped offensive line has played well for most of the season, highlighted by the way it took over the game against LSU in the second half.
However, after the loss to Georgia, the unit of Xavier Nixon, James Wilson, Jon Harrison, Jon Halapio and Chaz Green came under scrutiny for allowing five sacks and giving Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel little time to pass.
They met as a group this week to challenge each other to play better Saturday. Look for leaders such as Harrison and Halapio to be men on a mission. Nixon, who suffered a knee injury against Georgia, is questionable but should be able to play according to Muschamp.
The Gators and Tigers have met just one other time, at now-defunct Tulane Stadium in New Orleans in the 1966 Sugar Bowl. Missouri won 20-18.
In their first year in the SEC the Tigers are getting a taste of football Southern style. They will get a taste of The Swamp for the first time Saturday.
While Missouri is no stranger to loud road venues such as Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, if the Gators play well Saturday, the Tigers might need earplugs in one of the country’s loudest stadiums.
REVVED UP RUN GAME
Since the day he took over, Muschamp has said the Gators will win with a strong defense and ball-control run game. The numbers don’t lie.
Under Muschamp the Gators are 13-2 when they rush for 100 or more yards, 1-5 when they don’t such as last week against Georgia. Missouri is in the middle of the pack in the SEC in run defense, ranked seventh with an average of 138.5 yards allowed per game.
The Gators want to be more balanced on offense than they have shown recently, but for that to happen, running back Mike Gillislee will need to have room to run and keep Missouri’s defense off-balance to open up opportunities for Driskel.
Gillislee has dropped to fourth in the SEC in rushing (91.1 yards per game) but is still on pace to become Florida’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. It will be a surprise Saturday if Gillislee doesn’t gain more than 3.5 yards a carry the way he did against the Bulldogs.
From the first drive against Georgia nothing seemed to go right for Driskel. He lost two fumbles, threw two interceptions and for most of the day looked like a young quarterback learning on the job.
Still, with the Gators’ chances alive to tie the game and potentially force overtime, Driskel led Florida down the field into scoring range. The drive ended when tight end Jordan Reed fumbled and the Bulldogs recovered the ball in the end zone.
It was a tough loss for the Gators and for a first-year starting quarterback in the biggest game of his young career. We’ll see how Driskel responds to last week’s adversity. Will he play timid and struggle with his decision making? Or will he play confident and use his dangerous athletic skills to make plays?
TIGER WITH CLAWS
If the Gators are going to be successful at running the ball, they will need to get around Tigers defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
Richardson is the reigning SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week and leads all conference interior linemen with 57 tackles this season. Muschamp said Richardson stands out on tape. Pinkel is a big fan too of the 6-foot-4 Richardson, who forced a fumble and then returned it 60 yards to set up a touchdown in last week’s win over Kentucky.
“He runs like a linebacker, and he's 295 pounds,’’ Pinkel said. “Maybe not as fast as a linebacker, but very close to it. Very great athlete, great quickness, great pursuit.”
CHANCE FOR DEBOSE
A stat that really catches your attention when looking at the Gators is the offensive production of redshirt junior receiver Andre Debose. In eight games Debose has four offensive touches – three rushes for seven yards and one catch for five yards.
Debose, who led the Gators with 432 receiving yards a year ago, has been productive in the return game and remains a dangerous threat every time he has the ball in space. The problem is that Debose hasn’t created much space to get the ball in the passing game. With receiver Solomon Patton done for the season with a broken arm, Debose should be more of a factor in the offense if he is willing to accept Patton’s role.
“We have to fill the void of what [Patton] gives you from a dynamic playmaker standpoint,’’ Muschamp said. “[Debose] is a guy that can get on the edge and do some things.”
Tigers quarterback James Franklin is a lot like Driskel, an athletic quarterback who relies on his legs to make plays in Missouri’s quick passing game.
The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Franklin isn’t quite as big as Driskel but he has more experience and when healthy is the player that makes the Tigers roar.
Hampered by a left knee injury, Franklin came off the bench against Kentucky and provided a spark in Missouri’s first SEC win. Franklin has passed for 821 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, adding 75 rushing yards. Those numbers are down significantly from his 2,865 yards passing and 981 rushing from a year ago, but SEC defenses are a stiffer than those Franklin faced in the Big 12.
Franklin is the latest talented quarterback to play for Missouri under Pinkel, joining Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and current Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The Gators’ defense is third overall in the SEC (280.9 yards allowed per game), second in scoring (12.8 ppg), third against the run (100.5 ypg) and fourth against the pass (180.4). The defense has been as good as advertised.
Part of that reason is improved depth. That should come into play Saturday with defensive end/buck Lerentee McCray slowed by an ankle injury and defensive tackle Leon Orr out with the flu.
True freshmen Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard have emerged as solid contributors on the defensive line and linebacker Antonio Morrison looks like a future All-SEC performer at linebacker. Muschamp praised all three for their play this week and look for the trio to take plenty of snaps against the Tigers.
Missouri (4-4, 1-4 in SEC) at No. 8 Florida (7-1, 6-1 in SEC)
Kickoff: Saturday, 12:01 p.m. (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)
TV: ESPN2 – Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analyst), Jenn Brown (sideline)
Internet: ESPN3.com (blacked out in Eastern Time Zone)
Bottom line: The Gators return home looking to rebound in their final SEC regular-season game of the season. The SEC East title remains a possibility if Florida can dispatch of the Tigers in their first visit to The Swamp.