Though it may feel like it to some, the season, as well as Florida's hopes of winning the SEC East, isn't over and done with. At least not at this time. This weekend #8 Florida takes on Missouri in the Swamp with an outside chance to capture the SEC East. Inside the Gators has the very latest on the match up in this Game Week Breakdown. Guerry Smith breaks down Missouri with his answers to five burning questions as well previewing five Tigers players Gator fans should keep an eye on this weekend.
BURNING QUESTIONS: Guerry Smith provides answers to these
five burning questions
1) Is Missouri capable of A) competing in the SEC and B) beating Florida?
The answer to the first part is a qualified "yes." The Tigers finished .500 or better in Big 12 games for the last seven years they were in the league, reaching the conference championship game in 2007 and 2008. The SEC is a step up, but the extra money they will rake in as a member of the richest conference will help them raise their commitment. Unfortunately, they entered with their weakest team in several years, losing some key contributors after finishing a middling 8-5 last season. For most of the past 10 years, Missouri was better than Texas A&M, which is 3-2 so far in its first year of SEC play. The answer to the second part is a qualified "no." Florida might be flat coming off its devastating loss to Georgia, but the Tigers have too little firepower to do any damage. They were competitive for two-and-a-half quarters against Georgia before falling apart, but they were never in the game at South Carolina (31-10 thanks to a last-minute Missouri TD).
2) Is quarterback James Franklin capable of regaining his 2011 form after having knee surgery earlier this year?
It's highly unlikely. Franklin was not the Franklin of last year (2,865 yards passing, 981 yards rushing) even before he sprained an MCL in the first half against Vanderbilt on Oct. 6. A shoulder problem, specifically an inflamed bursa sac, forced him to miss the Arizona State game, so his throwing and running ability have been compromised by injuries. Coach Gary Pinkel named him the starter against Florida after he relieved the ineffective Corbin Berkstresser (interceptions on his first two throws in the second half) against Kentucky last Saturday, but he was little more than a caretaker, completing 6 of 9 passes for 16 yards while not running at all. He is less than 100 percent, which bodes poorly against Florida's top notch defense in The Swamp. Look for Berkstresser, a suspect passer (48.9 percent completions) and non-runner (12 yards), to replace him at some point on Saturday.
3) Despite finally winning an SEC game (against Kentucky) in his fourth try last week, why was Pinkel unhappy?
He was shocked at the ineptitude of Missouri's special teams, which had been pretty good previously. The Tigers had an extra point blocked, ran into the Kentucky punter, gave up a 50-yard kick return and muffed two punts, one of which the Wildcats recovered. Kentucky was not good enough to take advantage, falling 33-10, but those would have been killer mistakes against almost anyone else. The muffed punts by Marcus Murphy were the most surprising. He already has returned a school-record four kicks for touchdowns this season, but he lost concentration on Saturday. Kicker Andrew Baggett has converted seven field goals in a row, but he nearly cost the Tigers a win against Arizona State by missing three of four.
4) What do the Tigers do well defensively?
Most things, actually. They are holding opponents to 3.64 yards per rush and 6.71 yards per pass, ranking in the top third of the country in both categories. They have 19 sacks, a respectable total. The only team that gained 400 yards against them was Alabama, which has been killing everyone. Missouri clearly is not on the same level as Alabama, Florida, LSU or South Carolina defensively, but the Tigers match up well with anyone else in the league. They held Arizona State, Vanderbilt, UCF and Kentucky to 20 or fewer points.
5) Is Missouri capable of forcing six turnovers?
That's a joke. Sort of. Who would have thought Florida, which had four turnovers through seven games, would get so shockingly careless against Georgia? It was mystifying, and the last one was the worst, when Jordan Reed let defensive end Jarvis Jones poke the ball away from him inside the Bulldogs' 5-yard line. Jones is tremendous, but if any other Georgia player had stripped Reed the same way, all of the focus would have been on Reed's terrible ball security rather. Jones did not hit the ball hard enough to make it fly out the way it did without help from the careless Reed. The bizarre day proved what I've always believed -that turnover margin is the most revealing stat about a team's past performance but the least revealing about future performance. It is too volatile to know what will happen from game from game. With that being said, no, I wouldn't expect that type of turnover barrage again from the Gators two weeks in a row.
FIVE TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Here's a list of five Tigers players Gator fans will want to keep an eye on
Smith Says: The speedy Lawrence has been effective (632 yards, 5.4 average, 7 TDs) as Missouri changed from a read-option approach in 2011 to a traditional hand-the-ball to the running back offense. He is the only potential game-breaker on the offense.
Smith Says: When is the last time an interior lineman led a team in tackles? Richardson does with 57, including four sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned 60 yards vs. Kentucky. He's unbelievable.
5) E.J. Gaines, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound junior cornerback
Smith Says: A first-team All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, Gaines has done everything but intercept passes this year. He has 40 tackles, two forced fumbles, a team-high six breakups and seven stops behind the line of scrimmage.
FIVE FAST FACTS
1) Florida and Missouri have played only once, with the Tigers winning 20-18 in the 1965 Sugar Bowl. They will face each other every year from here on out since the Tigers were placed in the SEC East after joining the league.
2) Missouri is 2-6 in its last eight true conference road games, including its lopsided defeat at South Carolina earlier this year. The Tigers have beaten only one ranked opponent on the road since the start of 2006, and that was an overtime victory at Texas A&M last season. The Aggies finished 7-6. Missouri's last win over a top-10 team was 36-27 against third-ranked Oklahoma in 2010.
3) Missouri takes the term "pop-gun passing offense" to new levels. The receivers' averages per catch are puny. Leading receiver Marcus Lucas averages 10.2 yards on his 32 catches. T.J. Moe (27 catches) averages 9.6. Gahn McGaffie (22 catches) averages 7.5 and is coming off a six-catch. Dorial Green-Beckham is coming off a seven-catch, 25-yard performance vs. Kentucky. Look for plenty of bubble screens and quick outs.
4) Missouri is second nationally with 14 fumble recoveries, ranking behind only Louisiana Tech (15). Gaines and end Michael Sam have returned one for a touchdown. The Gators will be wise to secure the ball in traffic after their debacle in Jacksonville.
5) Missouri has five players from Florida - including senior offensive tackle Elvis Fisher of St. Petersburg, sophomore linebacker Darvin Ruise of Glen St. Mary, freshman tight end Brandon Holifield of Tallahassee and freshman tight end Sean Culkin of Indian Rocks Beach. Fisher, who was ranked the No. 53 offensive lineman in the nation by Rivals.com coming out of high school, is a four-year starter who was given a sixth year of eligibility after rupturing the patella tendon in his left knee during preseason practice in 2011. Ruise has eight tackles in a reserve role.