If you want an indication about how this Florida-Missouri game might go, use the Vanderbilt variable. In their three-game losing streak, the Tigers (5-4, 2-3 SEC) began the skid by dropping a 21-14 decision in Nashville to the Commodores. Meanwhile, last week the Gators (8-2, 5-2) supplanted those same Commodores by a 56-0 score.
So what can we surmise from this daisy chain? Does that mean Florida will beat Missouri 56-14 or something? Okay, probably not. But you have to assume the Gators will no doubt win, especially if things continue as they are trending.
Florida at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Florida -7
When Florida Has the Ball
Get Trask on track early. The Gators got off to a shaky start against Vanderbilt, with quarterback Kyle Trask not being able to connect on a fourth-down pass and then throwing two INTs in the red zone. But then the wheels on the bus got to rollin’ in the second half. Another slow start could be more dangerous vs. Missouri. In his seven starts, the junior signal-caller has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,011 yards with 19 touchdowns. Those aren’t gaudy numbers but he’s been a great game manager. Some early momentum this week will be vital to the Gators' hopes.
Leave the screen open. The Gators don’t have a dominant running game (Lamical Perine leads the team with just 504 yards through 10 games) and that gets doubled down as the offensive line featured two freshmen in starting roles vs. Vanderbilt. That's why their "running game" also consists of a series of screen passes that pretty much function as a running play. And Trask and company do a good job of distributing the ball via jet sweeps, swing passes, and wideout screens, which will keep that aggressive Mizzou defense in check.
Stamina. Florida has been a fourth-quarter team all season, scoring 113 points in the final frame (compared to 48 first-quarter points). Meanwhile, Missouri has posted just 30 points in the fourth quarter in nine games. If the Gators get off to a faster start, don’t look for the Tigers to be a comeback type of team.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Egad, it’s gotten ugly. Less than a month ago the Tigers were ranked in the top 25 and atop the SEC East. But now, playing without national title-winning QB Kelly Bryant, the Tiger offense has sputtered to a near-complete stop. In their last three games the offense has been held to 21 points and an average of 260 yards per game. At Georgia, Mizzou managed just 198 yards and zero points. Expecting things to get much better against the nation's ninth-ranked scoring defense (15.0 ppg) seems like a bit of a stretch.
Who will QB the Tigers? Bryant sat out last week’s loss at Georgia due to his nagging hamstring injury sustained in the loss to Kentucky. But if the keys are given back to Taylor Powell or if Connor Bazelak comes in to spell Powell again, they have got to use all the weapons they have. Leading receiver Johnathon Johnson missed last week’s game but should be back in uniform this week. Also, NFL-bound tight end Albert Okwuegbunam has been nearly forgotten about, especially in the vertical passing game. In the last three games the Big O has just six catches for 40 yards and his longest catch in that span has been a 10-yarder.
Don’t abandon the run. Even if the Tigers get behind, they can’t just start trying to chuck the ball all over the yard. In last year’s 38-17 win in the Swamp, the running game churned out 148 yards on 20 carries in the first half alone to help pace Mizzou to a 21-10 lead on the way to victory. Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie are averaging 4.8 and 4.3 yards per carry respectively and must become factors down the stretch.
Playing Georgia and Florida back-to-back is a tough chore. But the one thing Missouri has going for it is a defense that can keep the Tigers in any game. The Gators won’t be quite the offensive threat that the Bulldogs were and if somehow, someway Mizzou can find some semblance of an offense, they could have a shot in this one.
The Tigers also are playing at home, where they have fared much better than their recent road woes. I’m not confident that Kelly Bryant will be 100 percent, but even if he does play the offense is still going to be a liability here. The Gators are leading the SEC in sacks (35) and tackles for a loss (69).
And again, remember how Missouri lost to Vanderbilt 21-14? And how Florida beat VU 56-0? Gimme the Gators
Prediction: Florida 31, Missouri 10
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.