Returning to action after a two-week hiatus due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Florida Gators will trot onto the field for a showdown with the Missouri Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium this Saturday night.
As a team that Florida has struggled with in recent memory, Missouri is coming off two big victories against the likes of LSU and Kentucky to climb to .500 on the year at 2-2.
Ranking 33rd in total defense and 42nd in total offense according to NCAA.com, Missouri isn’t a squad that brings jaw-dropping execution on either side of the football but does all the little things correctly in Eliah Drinkwitz‘s first season as head coach.
Defensively, Missouri doesn’t possess the strengths necessary to limit the national powerhouse that the Gators offense has become in 2020.
Likely to be another successful day for Kyle Trask and company on Halloween, the only room for concern could come in limiting the effectiveness of the Tigers defensive lineman Trajan Jeffcoat in pursuit of the passer.
With three sacks on the season, Jeffcoat—who missed the entirety of the 2019 season—accounts for nearly half of the Tigers seven sacks on the year and is a legitimate threat off the edge for starting tackle Jean Delance to contain.
However, the biggest concern for the Gators comes from the Missouri offense.
A recipe that has hurt Florida to this point in the year has been the opposing team's ability to convert on third down or fourth downs, control the clock, and establish the run. All of which happen to be facets of the game Missouri has had great success with.
Coming into this week, the Tigers are led by their fourth starting quarterback in the past three seasons in redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak.
Since officially taking over the starting role from junior Shawn Robinson following week two against Tennessee, Bazelak has been uber-efficient as a passer and has added a spark to a previously stagnant Mizzou offense.
Completing just over 70% of his 99 passes on the year, Bazelak has tallied 893 yards and four touchdowns on the season—all four of which he threw in a shootout victory against LSU—with no dominant receiver separating itself from the pack.
In a game in which Mizzou proved they could keep up with high scoring offenses against piss-poor defenses, Bazelak tossed the pigskin for 406 yards on 35 attempts against the Bayou Bengals.
Given Bazelak’s decision making and accuracy to this point, Missouri will look to take shots down the field early in the play count against Florida but is something they haven’t looked to do too often in the three of their first four matchups.
Instead, their offensive unit's focus falls into the hands of the run game behind the dynamic duo of Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie lining the Tigers backfield.
Struggling against the run to this point in the year—ranking 57th in the nation in the category—Florida will get back a huge anchor in the middle on Saturday in Kyree Campbell, who has been inactive the first three games for undisclosed reasons.
Rountree brings the downhill, hard-nosed style of running to the table, Badie brings the speed and elusiveness to the outside in this backfield. Combining the two makes a lethal one-two punch.
Accounting for 87% of the Tigers run game in the season, the two-headed snake has combined for 517 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, and four touchdowns (six if you include Badie’s team-leading receiving touchdowns) and should be a major focus of the game plan for Todd Grantham’s defense.
Despite being an underwhelming stat line, the Tigers running game is being utilized heavily, rushing the football 65% of the time, in an attempt to control the time of possession battle to begin the year.
Winning that battle in a dominant victory of Kentucky is something they excelled at this past Saturday, controlling the ball for 43:10 compared to the Wildcats 16:50.
Struggling mightily to get off the field and getting the ball in the hands of their prolific offense to begin this season, the Gators have allowed opposing teams convert on 61% (33/54) of third and fourth down attempts.
As a result, Florida will have its work cut out with a Missouri who loves to chew clock and has a combined conversion rate of 50.7% on third and fourth downs this season.
The survive and adapt nature that Drinkwitz has instilled in his unit in year one makes them a difficult team to conquer, especially coming off two weeks of no in-person football-related activities.
Like in recent weeks, defensive inefficiencies could lead to a close, high scoring game that could result in a loss for the Gators, given Missouri's strengths match up with their weaknesses.
Without a doubt, Florida holds more talent on both sides of the ball, an advantage in experience from near head to toe where the two programs are concerned and had two weeks to prepare for this Missouri squad schematically.
Ultimately, where the Gators flutter is in production. Coming off the two-week bye of sorts, there is a possibility they start slow.
In the end, I think they find their groove and pull it out through another spectacular outing offensively, but not in the domineering effort many members of Gator Nation may hope for.