|MISSOURI TIGERS (2016: 4-8, 2-6 SEC)|
|Head Coach||Returning starters||2016 offense||2016 defense|
|Barry Odom||10 offense, 5 defense||501 YPG/31.4 PPG||480 YPG/31.5 PPG|
|4-8, 2nd year||99%, 48% of stat production||13th/48th in FBS||118th/89th in FBS|
All time series: Florida 3, Missouri 3
Last meeting: Florida 40, Missouri 14
Synopsis: Lost amid yet another losing season for Mizzou was a curious fact: they actually weren’t bad on offense. So then how did the Tigers finish with twice as many losses as wins? Because their defense was one of the worst the SEC has seen in recent memory. Consider: the Tigers surrendered 634 yards to LSU, 609 to Tennessee, and 595 more to Middle Tennessee- who finished in the middle of the pack in Conference USA. Missouri does return ten starters from that “not bad” offense, but unless Barry Odom can orchestrate a complete overhaul of his defense, it’s not going to matter.
Offensive breakdown: Drew Lock is back for his second full year at the helm of the offense, and he showed promise in an up and down 2016 campaign. It’s worth noting, however, that his ups came against two FCS opponents and Mid Tennessee, namely 12 touchdowns and no picks in those three games. In his other nine games? 11 touchdowns and 10 picks, two of which Gator cornerbacks took to the house. (He also threw a pick six to Jalen Tabor two years ago.) His decision making could certainly improve, to say the least, but the rhythm he developed late last year at least gives offensive coordinator Josh Heupel a good foundation to build off of.
Lock will have a good running game to help him out. Great? Probably not. But good, certainly good enough to pick up some yards here and there. Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter both return off of successful 2016 seasons and will have a slightly more experienced offensive line to run behind. Both have above average vision and can do damage in the receiving game as well. If the offensive line- from which all five starters return- continues to show improvement, the Tigers could again be dangerous on the ground.
Missouri’s offense will ultimately rely on its wide receivers. After a slow start, J’Mon Moore emerged toward season’s end and looks to be a real threat heading into 2017. Aside him, contributors Jonathan Johnson, Nate Brown, Emanuel Hall, Dimetrios Mason and Ray Wingo all return. And for even more depth, the Tigers return tight ends Kendall Blanton and Jason Reese. If they can create separation against the better defenses, look out.
Offensive Grade: B+. Were it not for subpar performances against LSU and Florida, this unit would have finished in the top ten in total offense a year ago. And with almost everybody back from a year ago, Mizzou’s offense should again quietly be among the nation’s best.
Defensive breakdown: It may actually be a good thing that the Tigers lose over half its defense. When you score 37 points in a game and lose by four touchdowns, something is fundamentally wrong, and perhaps Odom’s defense will benefit from addition by subtraction. Former five star recruit Terry Beckner Jr. will have to do much more this year on the interior, and he should be complemented well enough by Marcell Frazier outside. But you can’t have a defensive line with just two players of SEC caliber, and so Mizzou will hope to unearth more as the season progresses. And if Beckner gets hurt again, well, then they’re hopeless.
The linebacker spot may be this defense’s one saving grace. Coaches are high on Cale Garrett, Brandon Lee and Eric Beisel, who teamed up for 16 TFL’s a year ago. If they can get help from converted cornerback TJ Warren, there’s hope that the run defense can improve its ghastly numbers from a year ago. But even with their big play ability, the Tigers still gave up 233 yards a game on the ground last year. And that’s not exactly the highest bar to set.
Meanwhile, both starting corners are gone. DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes earned praise from the coaches this spring, but with no experience, it’s hard to really predict how they’ll fare. Then again, the Gators get them in November, so maybe they’ll have taken some lumps and become serviceable corners by then. But Tiger coaches and fans are likely doing more hoping than believing in this rather green secondary.
Defensive grade: F. The good news is that Missouri’s defense can’t possibly be any worse than it was a year ago. The bad news is that there’s exactly zero evidence that it will be any better.
Key matchup: Turnover battle. Missouri’s defense might get rolled over by Florida’s offense like a tank over a cat, but if the Tigers can force turnovers they can win anyway. Or put more bluntly: given that the Gators have the matchup advantage at every single position on the field, this is Mizzou’s only path to victory.
Florida wins if… they get their quarterback into a rhythm. Whether that’s Feleipe Franks or Malik Zaire, Florida’s quarterback can knock Missouri down for the count early if he gets into a groove and starts (accurately) firing bullets over the stadium. Missouri simply doesn’t have the personnel to stop the Gators’ offense, so as long as Franks/Zaire plays the way he’s supposed to and doesn’t make mistakes, things will come naturally and Florida will cruise to victory.
Missouri wins if… the Tigers force a bunch of turnovers. I only go to this as a key as a resort, but, well, it’s Missouri. Last resort needed. That’s just the natural talent and coaching disparity we’re dealing with. But if the Tigers can force some mistakes and get some free touchdowns like they did in 2014, all bets are off.
Overview: No matter what happens the week before against Georgia, it’s really, really hard to fathom a scenario where Florida loses to Missouri. Even on the road. With the rise (above sea level, anyway) of Vanderbilt, the Tigers easily qualify as the SEC East’s whipping boy, and maybe Barry Odom will get this program turned around in another year or two, but the defense is in need of an overhaul that’s too much for anybody to fix in one year.
I’ll pause here to issue the standard warnings. It’s an SEC opponent. It’s a road game in the SEC. Anything can happen on any given day. Turnovers can give any underdog more of a shot to win than logic and roster comparisons say they should. The Tigers do have a respectable offense. Florida could be too emotionally high or emotionally low depending on the previous week’s result. And Missouri came out of nowhere to win the East in 2013 and 2014.
But all things considered, Florida would have to try to lose this game. Jordan Scarlett can name the amount of yards he’ll run for, LaMical Perine can too, and the Gators can more or less name the final score. Unless something of absolutely unpredictable proportions takes place- like Missouri four non-offensive touchdowns a la 2014, Florida commits seven turnovers or the Gators finish with ten yards passing- this one’s going Jim McElwain’s way. Florida could easily blow a winnable game in 2017. This will not be one of them.
Projection: Florida 48, Missouri 24