Seven weeks into the season, the road to Atlanta runs through Columbia, Missouri. The Tigers are off to a 6-0 start with impressive conference wins on the road against Vanderbilt and Georgia. But Missouri's SEC title hopes were dealt a serious blow last week when quarterback James Franklin separated his shoulder. Franklin, having a career year for the Tigers, will be out three to five weeks. Gary Pinkel needs a big game from backup quarterback Maty Mauk, while Florida looks to put themselves back at the top of the SEC East despite dealing with a handful of season ending injuries. Just this year, the Gators have lost Jeff Driskel, Dominique Easley, Matt Jones, Andre Debose and Chaz Green for the season. This conference matchup pits two of the nation's most productive defenses against a pair of unknown signal callers.
3 Things to Watch
Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk gets the call for the undefeated Tigers. Mauk was a Parade All-American in high school where he broke national prep records in passing yards, touchdown passes, completions and total offense. Last week, he led two touchdown drives to hold off the Bulldogs’ comeback bid and win 41-26. Mauk will try to keep things going for an offense that averages 45.7 points and 515.7 yards per game. The freshman certainly has plenty of weapons surrounding him with the trio of L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas and Dorial Green-Beckham catching passes and Henry Josey running the ball. The Gators know how Missouri felt as they also lost their starting quarterback earlier this year. Jeff Driskel was lost for the season against Tennessee, and junior Tyler Murphy has started the last three games for Florida. Murphy looked good in his starts against Kentucky and Arkansas, completing 78 percent of his passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns. However, he struggled against LSU. He was sacked four times and threw for just 115 yards. Florida has called 274 rushing plays and only 143 pass attempts this year. They will look to build upon their NCAA-leading time of possession at over 37 minutes per game.
Florida’s rushing offense vs. Missouri’s run defense
The big news out of Gainesville this week was the loss of their second leading rusher, as halfback Matt Jones has been ruled out for the season after suffering a knee injury against LSU. The Gators ground-and-pound mentality will not change; however, as the Tigers can expect a large dose of junior Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor (son of former Gator Fred Taylor). Missouri may be up for the challenge, as the Tigers rank third in the SEC against the run, allowing fewer than 130 yards per game. Florida's game plan will be to take the pressure off of Murphy by relying on their running game and extremely strong defense. The Gators will try to make this game a slugfest.
One would think that Florida, with its collection of ball hawks in the secondary, would be near the top of interception rankings; however, Missouri actually leads the country with 13 interceptions. In fact, Missouri has created at least one turnover in 36 consecutive games. The Gators are no slouches either, with eight interceptions thus far. Cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Vernon Hargreaves III form one of the best duos in the entire country and will look to feast off the mistakes of an unproven quarterback. Florida's defense is perhaps the best in the entire country, allowing just 13 points per game. The Gators still have not allowed a passing touchdown in 2013. Florida hasn’t given up more than 24 points in a Southeastern Conference matchup in more than two years, a span of 16 games. In fact, only three opponents have even reached 20 points, and none since Tennessee on Sept. 15, 2012. Look for a big turnover in the second half to swing momentum and ultimately decide the outcome of this game.
Key Player: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
A big reason for Missouri's high turnover rate is the play of Sam. The senior leads the SEC in sacks with six and tackles for loss. For his stellar play, Sam has earned back-to-back SEC Defensive Line Player of the Week awards.
This game will be a sloppy affair. Don't expect any high-flying offensive numbers to be showcased in this one. Florida's offense is struggling and its defense is spectacular. Missouri, on the other hand, has a good offense, but will be handcuffed with the loss of Franklin. I think Florida eeks out an ugly win in this defense struggle.
Prediction: Florida 15, Missouri 13