Know Your Enemy: Q&A With Missouri Beat Writer Mitchell Forde!
There's no better way to know your enemy than to get intel from someone familiar with the situation.
At least, that's how we approach matchups on a weekly basis here at GatorMaven. In order to best preview the upcoming game between the No. 11 Florida Gators and Missouri Tigers, I'm excited to welcome Mitchell Forde of PowerMizzou.com for our weekly "Know Your Enemy" question and answer session.
How has Kelly Bryant performed after transferring to Mizzou? Is this the same team that's given Florida problems over the past two years?
Let's get to the Q&A!
1. When he's been healthy, how good has Kelly Bryant been for Missouri? Florida really struggled against Drew Lock last year, are there things that Bryant does similarly to Lock that could cause issues?
It's been a very up-and-down year for Kelly Bryant, complicated by the fact that he has been dealing with a couple of injuries.
For the first six games of the season, he was really good. He threw a few bad interceptions in the red zone, but aside from that, he surprised me with his passing ability. At the halfway point of the year, he had thrown for 1,575 yards (262.5 per game), 12 TD and 4 INT.
Since then, however, it's been a struggle. Bryant had far and away his worst game of the year against Vanderbilt, passing for just 140 yards on 26 attempts and throwing an interception in the end zone. He struggled against Kentucky as well, but I give him more of a pass for that one since it was pouring rain, he got hurt in the first quarter and Mizzou had like seven drops.
Long story short, the past three games have shown us that Mizzou's offensive issues extend beyond just Bryant, but Missouri needs its quarterback (we think that will be Bryant, but not 100 percent certain) to play at a higher level than it's been getting in the past three games if it's going to have a chance against Florida.
To answer your question about the Drew Lock comparison, the main thing that made Lock a dynamic passer was his arm strength and ability to stretch the defense vertically with his deep ball. The absence of that this season has been glaring. Bryant has completed just 10 of 27 attempts more than 20 yards downfield on the year. As a result, opposing defenses are loading the box, selling out to stop the run and jumping all the short passing patterns and Mizzou hasn't shown an ability to adjust.
2. Florida has struggled against RB Larry Rountree III and TE Albert Okwuegbunam in the past. How are those players performing this year, and where do you see them taking advantage of Florida's defense?
Rountree and Okwuegbunam entered this season as perhaps the two most hyped players on the Missouri roster. To be frank, they've both disappointed.
Rountree's numbers aren't down drastically from the first nine games of last season, but with Damarea Crockett gone and Bryant's legs presenting a running threat as well, everyone thought he could have a really big year. If you don't count the game against FCS Southeast Missouri, Rountree is averaging just 66 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry. It's not all on him, though. As I said above, opposing defenses have really keyed in on stopping the run, and the offensive line hasn't done a very good job of creating running lanes.
Okwuegbunam, meanwhile, has been fairly maddening because he flashes NFL-caliber potential but also disappears for long stretches. Okwuegbunam had 43 catches for 466 yards through nine games last year. This year, he has 22 catches for 280 yards. He went without a catch against Kentucky a couple weeks ago.
For a while, fans were upset with the play-calling for not finding more ways to get him the ball, but then Mizzou targeted him nine times against Georgia and he caught just four passes for 30 yards with two drops and a penalty. The one area Okwuegbunam could really hurt Florida, though, is in the red zone. He's caught six touchdowns on the season and has 23 in his three-year career.
3. Defensively for Missouri, which player matchups are you looking forward to with Florida?
Missouri's defense has been a pleasant surprise this season. The Tigers' best players have been linebacker Nick Bolton, defensive tackle Jordan Elliott and safety Tyree Gillespie, so keep an eye on all those guys.
But I think the main matchup to watch will be the secondary against Florida's pass-catchers. Mizzou ranks fourth nationally in passing defense, but until last week, they hadn't faced a threatening quarterback. And I still don't think they've faced a team with the number of receiving weapons Florida has. I've always been impressed with Dan Mullen's ability to spread the ball around and find the best matchup for one of his playmakers, so if Missouri has a perceived weak link in coverage, I expect Florida to try to exploit it, whether it's by getting the ball to the wideouts, Kyle Pitts or a running back out of the backfield.
Also, Mizzou has gotten next to no pass rush from its defensive ends; getting after Kyle Trask and forcing him to get rid of the ball quickly would really help the Tigers' chances.
4. What have your takeaways of QB Kyle Trask been? What spots in Missouri's defense could he target?
I'll be honest, I haven't watched Florida extensively this season. But I saw Trask in relief of Feleipe Franks when Mizzou played Florida last season and I thought he looked like the better of the two quarterbacks on that day.
As I just mentioned, Mizzou's secondary has been a very pleasant surprise this season, but I would guess he will look to Pitts and whoever is lined up opposite Jarvis Ware. Missouri's safeties have been solid in coverage, especially Gillespie, but I don't know if they can match Pitts' size and physicality.
And Georgia clearly wanted to pick on Ware last week, targeting him eight times, and it generally worked. Ware is only a true sophomore and clearly has a lot of talent, but he gave up five completions for 68 yards and a touchdown against Georgia.
5. Game prediction?
I know Missouri has had Florida's number in recent years, but I actually think that could benefit the Gators in this one.
Normally, a cold, sleepy road atmosphere for an 11 a.m. kick could be the recipe for a letdown, but after losing to Missouri two years in a row, Florida has to be fairly motivated for this one. And as long as the Gators play a relatively clean game offensively and don't gift Missouri points with turnovers, I don't see how the Tigers can score enough points. I think Florida pulls away in the second half of a low-scoring game to win 23-13.