Every game on the college football schedule holds a special significance. With the way that the rankings and BCS system are set up, an offseason of preparation and season can be lost on any given Saturday. Despite suffering their first SEC loss last week, the Florida Gators are in a unique position of still being in control of their own fate.
The road to Atlanta is now significantly more uphill than it was a week ago and there are remaining speed bumps along the way, the first of which is Saturday in Columbia, Missouri.
In a two-part series, Nick de la Torre and Richard Johnson will tear apart the matchups that will make or break Florida’s season this Saturday against the Missouri Tigers.
FLORIDA RUNNING GAME VS. MISSOURI RUN DEFENSE
Nick de la Torre: Even without Matt Jones we know that Florida is going to try to run the ball first and foremost. After the O-line got abused last week, how do you feel that Florida’s running game will fare this week in Colombia Missouri?
Richard Johnson: I feel really good about that aspect of the game. Kelvin Taylor came on in a big way Saturday going for 10 carries and 52 yards. That 5.2 yards per carry number was the second most for any back in any game this season with a minimum workload of 10 carries. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said this week that Taylor brought a spark to Florida in the running game that they haven’t had yet this year. I think with Taylor and Mack Brown as a one-two punch, Florida will be fine even without Jones. Missouri’s run defense may be pretty good (#25 in the nation in yards allowed) but they haven’t played a team that poses a significant rushing threat. Georgia was without Todd Gurley or Keith Marshall last week.
ND: That’s right. The best rushing team that Missouri has faced was Arkansas State (#28) which was way overmatched against Missouri. Like you, I am encouraged by Kelvin Taylor in the run game. While I do have concerns about Taylor, they aren’t when he’s got the ball in his hands. Playing a game on the road, expect Florida to try and establish the run early and I think the offensive line will come out this week with something to prove after getting beat up last week at LSU.
RJ: I love that you touched on the O-line wanting to run the ball as they absolutely have something to prove after a week of being maligned in the media and by Gator Nation for an entire week. They should come out aggressive and wanting to run downhill. I also think Florida should try to establish the run early to give the defense as much time as possible on the sideline. While Florida’s defense is good, it hasn’t been good at the start of games. If the Gators come out lollygagging thanks to the 11:21 AM local kickoff time this could get a little dicey. Keep the ball, let that defense make adjustments and wake up a little bit. If you look at what really doomed Georgia last weekend it was the four turnovers. Now Murphy hasn’t had a game where he’s given the ball to the other team to really sink Florida’s chances, but on the road Saturday against a keyed up Missouri team that is enjoying its first real success in the SEC would be a disastrous place to start throwing picks or fumbling the ball away.
ND: I think the 11:21 kick time will hurt Mizzou more than Florida. The Gators won’t travel to Missouri until Friday and won’t truly be acclimated to the new time zone. Florida has played two nooners already and should be ready for a third. I agree with Murphy not having a big turnover game. We’ve talked privately about expecting that it could happen at some point and establishing the run while mixing in some short easy passes is a way to get the offense moving and build confidence early.
Richard’s Advantage: Florida
Nick’s Advantage: Florida
Richard’s X-Factor: Tyler Murphy
Nick’s X-Factor: Kelvin Taylor
MISSOURI RUN GAME VS. FLORIDA RUN DEFENSE
ND: Let’s move into the Florida run defense against Missouri’s rushing offense. Maty Mauk brings a different level of mobility to the offense and that’s something that Florida will need to account for this Saturday.
RJ: Missouri will have to have success on the ground to ease Maty Mauk into this game. It is imperative that they gain yards on first and second down to make third downs manageable. I think they attempt to do that with the running game. Missouri has been impressive in performances against Vanderbilt (245 rushing yards) and against Georgia (142) but they haven’t faced a front like Florida’s. While the Gators are without Dominique Easley, their defensive line has still looked good. The problem has been at the second level where you’ve seen linebacker Antonio Morrison look ineffective at times stopping the run. I don’t think Florida will get pushed around up front by any means, but it’s not going out on a limb to say a few runs will get through Florida’s front four, and when that happens it could spell trouble.
ND: I disagree with you here, Richard. I think it all starts up front with the defensive line. Dominique Easley made everyone on the field with him better. Offensive line coaches had to scheme for Easley and double team him almost every snap. With two offensive linemen occupied by Easley (and often losing their battle with Chuckie’s father) it gave the rest of the line man-on-man situations and opened up gaps for the linebackers. Morrison is tied for the lead in tackles on the team (35) and that’s after he missed the season opener.
RJ: I don’t think it’s a significant drop-off without Easley though. Darious (Bear) Cummings, Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs have all been suitable stand-ins for Easley since he’s been down. Has there been a drop off? Of course, but I don’t expect this unit to get pushed around like they were last week against LSU.
ND: I don’t expect Florida to get pushed around like they were against LSU either. It was surprising to me at how well the offensive line played against a very big Arkansas defensive front and how much they struggled against a slimmer, more athletic LSU d-line.
RJ: My big question is what will Missouri do in the way of play calling? Will they try to go straight downhill at Florida or will they pull some end-arounds and try to go east/west at Florida?
ND: That’s an interesting question. I think you attack the middle of Florida’s line. There is far too much speed in the second level for Florida to let a team run east/west on them and until Cummings, Jacobs and Orr show that they can take on double teams and stop the inside run game, that appears to be the weakest spot on the defense.
Richard’s Advantage: Florida
Nick’s Advantage: Missouri
Richard’s X-Factor: Antonio Morrison
Nick’s X-Factor: Interior linemen
NEXT: Part II breakdown of passing game and special teams.