Preview: Missouri to have hands full with Florida

The Tigers enter the game having lost their last three contests.

After losing all three games during a season-derailing road trip, the good news for Missouri is that it’s now back in Columbia until after Thanksgiving.

The bad news is that its schedule isn’t getting any easier.

On the heels of a shutout loss to No. 5 Georgia, the Tigers begin their last homestand of the year on Saturday against No. 11 Florida. The Gators bring an impressive resume into the game, with a win in October over No. 13 Auburn and more recently, a 56-0 win over Vanderbilt, the team that beat the Tigers four weeks ago to begin their stretch of loses.

Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley doesn’t care about who Florida’s beaten, or much of anything other than his own offense.

“The starting point is us,” Dooley said. “We have to play better. We gotta get our guys healthy, our good players healthy. We’re banged up. Our other players, we gotta execute better. I think probably the two biggest things that I’m trying to emphasize is our details and our execution need to improve, and our competitive toughness to finish.”

Dooley’s offense will have its hands full against Florida. The Gators’ defense leads the Southeastern Conference with 35 sacks — eight more than the next closest team.

“A lot of credit to [defensive coordinator] Todd [Grantham] and his scheme defensively, but also they’ve got some good dudes that can get after the quarterback and win one-on-ones,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “They’ve got length. They’ve got speed. They’ve got explosion … They get the offense in third and passing situations. They kind of pin their ears back and go get it. They’ve done really successful. They had a lot of success, and everybody that they’ve gone against on getting hits on the quarterback and most of those have turned into sacks.”

Florida’s ability to pressure quarterbacks makes Missouri QB Kelly Bryant’s health crucial. Coming off a hamstring injury suffered Oct. 26 in Kentucky that caused him to miss the game against Georgia, Dooley said Tuesday Bryant isn’t yet at 100%. He did, however, practice with the rest of the starting lineup and expects to play on Saturday.

“Kelly’s health was very positive,” Odom said. “He looked good, took every snap today with the ones, moved around, said he felt good after practice. That’s a really good sign for us.”

The defense, undeniably Missouri’s most consistent unit throughout this rocky season, has its own set of issues to deal with the Gators. At Georgia, it bent but didn’t break, keeping the Bulldogs’ high-powered offense mostly out of the end zone and forcing five field goal attempts.

“It’s hard to look at positives when you don’t win the ballgame, but you turn on the tape and there were a lot of things and I thought they responded well to certain situations, and they kept fighting,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “That’s who we are as a team. That’s who we are as a defense, and I don’t expect that to change.”

The Gators and their pass-heavy offense lead the SEC East in total offense and scoring — all with their backup quarterback. Since starter Feleipe Franks dislocated his ankle in September, redshirt junior Kyle Trask has been one of the best quarterbacks in the conference; his 2,011 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and 158.84 passer rating are all top five in the SEC.

“He’s big and he’s strong and he stretches the field,” Odom said. “He doesn’t try to force throws. You don’t see him making bad decisions. If a guy’s open, he’s going to deliver the ball. He looks like even in the quarterback run game, he’s gaining confidence all the time, so he presents some challenges.”

Florida is the final elite opponent Missouri will play this year. It closes the season against Tennessee and Arkansas, two teams that have won a combined three games in the SEC. In 2018, Missouri picked up its first conference win by taking down No. 13 Florida 38-17 in Gainesville, Florida, kicking off a four-game winning streak to end the regular season. After a disastrous road trip, Missouri will again look to salvage its season against the Gators.

“Obviously, we all got a bitter taste in our mouth,” offensive lineman Trystan Colon-Castillo said. “Nobody likes being a loser and right now we’ve lost three games in a row, so obviously that sucks, and it’s not fun to come into the facility after a loss. Everybody understands that. But you know we’re all gonna come out here. We’re gonna keep working. We’re gonna do everything we can to try to find a win.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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