Virus-weary Gators finally return to action at home against the improving Tigers
Gators head coach Dan Mullen, two assistants, and 26 players have tested positive during this difficult stretch for the program. It is unknown how many players will be available on Saturday, but Mullen, who will return to the sidelines, says the Gators will have the SEC minimum of 53 needed to play.
As for the Tigers, they have won their last two games after beginning the season 0-2. Last week, Missouri put the defensive clamps on Kentucky, beating the Wildcats 20-10 at home. Missouri's latest 20-10 victory came against the Kentucky Wildcats last weekend.
Saturday will be the ninth time the Gators and Tigers have met on the gridiron, with Missouri holding the 5-4 edge. However, Florida won last year's matchup 23-6 in Columbia.
Missouri at No. 10 Florida
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31, at 7:30 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Florida -12.5
When Missouri Has the Ball
The strength of the Tigers this season has been their rushing attack. They're averaging 148.7 yards on the ground after picking up 220 and two touchdowns in last week's win over Kentucky. Larry Rountree III is fourth in the SEC with 99.0 rushing yards per game, and he also has three rushing touchdowns. His production has helped take pressure off of freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak, who replaced TCU transfer Shawn Robinson as the starter.
After getting off to a slow start, Bazelak really impressed against LSU, throwing for 406 yards (on 29-of-34 passing) and four touchdowns in the upset win. Bazelak didn't add to his touchdown total last week against Kentucky, but he didn't turn the ball over either, finishing 21-of-30 for 201 yards with another 40 on the ground against a tough Wildcats defense.
Missouri should be able to move the ball against a Florida defense that hasn't been able to stop anyone this season. The Gators rank 95th in the country at 495.0 yards per game allowed through the first three games. Florida also is surrendering 33.3 points per game and allowing teams to convert on third down 59 percent of the time.
To be fair, the Gators have faced some potent offenses in Ole Miss and Texas A&M, but any time you give up 543 yards (in loss to Aggies), it's a problem, and Florida will likely be dealing with a depleted depth chart due to its COVID-19 issues. It's up to the Tigers to take advantage of these circumstances on Saturday.
When Florida Has the Ball
As bad as their defense has been this season, the Gators' offense has been among the nation's best. Florida is 24th in total offense (464.0 ypg) and 10th in scoring (42.3 ppg) in the early going.
Quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts have been a highly productive duo for Florida this season. Trask has thrown for 996 yards, 14 touchdowns, and just one interception. Out of Pitts' 17 receptions, seven of them have gone for touchdowns.
The Gators will be facing a Missouri defense that's 33rd in the country in yards allowed per game (365.0) and is giving up 31.0 points per contest. While the Tigers have done a good job of limiting the yardage they have given up, teams have been able to score on them because of a lack of turnovers.
Missouri enters this game with a minus-four turnover margin (tied for 12th in SEC) because the defense has generated just two takeaways in four games. The Tigers have yet to record an interception while giving up eight touchdown passes.
How much will the long layoff hurt Florida this weekend against Missouri? The Tigers have improved the last couple of weeks, and this will not be an easy game for the Gators, especially considering their early defensive struggles.
Saturday's game might be a shootout, but Florida should have enough firepower with the Trask and Pitts show leading the way. However, the Gators' defense needs to perform a lot better than they've shown earlier this season. With a huge showdown against Georgia up next, Florida needs to use this game to work out the kinks and get ready for the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Florida 41, Missouri 30
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
— 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.