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Florida Gators vs. Missouri Tigers Preview and Prediction

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After parting ways with Jim McElwain, Randy Shannon will take the field as interim head coach of the Florida Gators for the first time on Saturday against the Missouri Tigers.

Missouri Tigers QB Drew Lock

The Gators (3-4, 3-3 SEC) will try to snap their three-game losing streak as Florida has not won a game since Sept. 30 against Vanderbilt. The team also could have a new starter under center against the Tigers.

Malik Zaire came in during the Gators’ eventual 42-7 loss against Georgia last week. He was just 3-for-6 for 36 yards, but he did help engineer a touchdown drive late in the game. Shannon said earlier this week that it would be a quarterback competition to see if Zaire or Feleipe Franks starts on Saturday.

Missouri (3-5, 0-4) is coming off a 52-12 victory over Connecticut last week. During that game, quarterback Drew Lock completed 31 of his 37 attempts for 377 yards and five touchdowns.

This will be the sixth time the Gators and Tigers have met as SEC East divisional foes since Missouri joined in the conference in 2012. Florida won last year’s meeting 40-14.

Florida at Missouri

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Missouri -3.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Gators’ offense

Jim McElwain was supposed to bring a high-powered offense to Gainesville, but that never happened. Once again Florida has one of the worst offenses in college football. Florida ranks 112th in the nation in total offense with just 336.6 yards per game. The Gators also are in the bottom third of the FBS in scoring at 21.3 points per game.

On Monday, interim head coach Randy Shannon said he would be involved in the offensive game plan for this weekend’s game. “For me, being a defensive coordinator and me just hanging around with the defense, when you take over a team, it’s not the right thing to do,” Shannon said. “I got to be a part of the whole defense and offense and special teams.”

On Thursday, Florida announced Malik Zaire would start over Feleipe Franks at quarterback.

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2. Drew Lock

Missouri head coach Barry Odom said he believes Lock is playing the best football of his career and it is tough to argue.

In Missouri’s four most recent games, Lock has thrown 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions and averaged 15.9 yards per attempt. For the season, Lock has thrown 28 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

Lock will be going up against a Florida defense that has been a shell of units from recent seasons. The Gators are sixth in the SEC in total defense, as they are giving up an average of 360.3 yards per game. Last season, Florida was fifth in the nation in that category (292.8 ypg). This season the Gators enter this game ranked 40th.

Florida has done a decent job against the pass, giving up just 195.3 yards per game through the air (34th), so Lock could have a difficult time matching his recent production.

3. Mark Thompson

Shannon announced on Monday that the Gators would be without Gators leading rusher Malik Davis for the rest of the season. Davis injured his right knee in the first quarter of Saturday's blowout loss to archrival Georgia.

With Davis out, Thompson will share carries with Lamical Perine. Thompson is a junior college transfer from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College where he was named a second-team All-American in his final season. He came to Florida with high expectations, but he has yet to match his JUCO production.

“He’s a senior, he’s a guy that’s 6-2, 240, runs a 4.4,” Shannon said about Thompson on Monday. “It’s his opportunity to come in and play and we’ve got to challenge him on offense and make sure there’s a reason why he was recruited to be a part of Florida. And that’s to be a skilled running back like he is, but also to be productive and be a physical type guy that can get open in space that can make plays.”

Thompson has just 30 carries this season for 119 yards, and his only touchdown came during garbage time in the loss to Georgia. Shannon and the Gators need Thompson to take advantage of his opportunities against a Missouri defense that is giving up 192.4 rushing yards per game.

Final Analysis

Florida’s offense has struggled all season, and this could be the wrong time to play a Missouri team that’s put up an average of 45.5 points per game over its last four.

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For the Gators to win on Saturday, they will need to rely heavily on their running game with Mark Thompson and Lemical Perine leading the way. Last week against Georgia, Florida has too many three-and-outs early. That wore down the defense and allowed the Bulldogs to jump out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter.

If Missouri quarterback Drew Lock is able to continue putting up big numbers against the Gators’ secondary, it could be another long day for the Florida fans that make the trek to Columbia.

Prediction: Missouri 34, Florida 17

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.