How much should Florida be concerned about Missouri’s home magic?

There are a few things most everyone knows about Missouri this year. They’re led by former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant. They’re facing a bowl ban unless they win their appeal. They have a future pro at tight end in Albert Okwuegbunam.

And, as the season has gone along, the Tigers seem to be much better at home than on the road. Like, a lot better. They’re 4-0 at home against FBS opponents with an average score of 38-14.5, but they’re 0-4 on the road with an average score of 13-28.5. They also have a win over an FCS team at home, but I’m ignoring it for the purposes of this piece.

That sounds ominous with Florida traveling to Columbia this weekend. The Gators have been only intermittently good against Mizzou, with a 3-4 record since the Tigers joined the SEC. UF’s wins have come against two outfits that went 5-7 and another than went 4-8. If Missouri has been a 7+ game winner, it has defeated the Gators — and that includes the Sugar Bowl following the 1965 season when 8-2-1 MU beat the Gators 20-18.

Missouri has five wins and Arkansas left to go, so they’ll get to six wins at least. In addition to UF they also have Tennessee at home, which is a winnable game for them. Seven wins is on the table, and eight if they can keep their hot home play going. By the win count pattern, this Mizzou team should be capable of taking the contest this weekend.

But for now, let’s break down this home/road split, shall we? Is there some real divide or are there more explicable reasons for the splits?

For one thing, the Missouri schedule is very streaky. After a road loss to Wyoming, the Tigers played five consecutive home games. They then went on the road for three straight before coming home this weekend. Not having a more random distribution of home and road games makes it easier to attribute trends to game site than it otherwise would be.

Case in point: Bryant’s injury. He strained his hamstring on the second-to-last snap of a 15-play, 65-yard drive against Kentucky that ended in a missed field goal. Before Barry Odom finally pulled his limited starter, the Tiger offense went four plays-punt, three plays-punt, five plays-punt, three plays-lost strip sack fumble, three plays-touchdown, and three plays-punt. The score came from running back Tyler Badie taking a standard screen pass 74 yards to the house.

MU’s success rate with the hurt Bryant in the game was 13.6%. By the time backup Taylor Powell came in, UK was already up 22-7. Powell led a 12 play, 62-yard drive that ended in a turnover on downs, but the Wildcats then scored to go up 29-7. A Mizzou fumble on the ensuing drive basically ended all hope of a comeback.

Bryant was then out the next week against Georgia, and the Bulldogs notched a shutout. He’s going to give it a go this weekend. The streaky schedule meant that Bryant’s misfortune happened to coincide with a pair of road games, exacerbating whatever underlying trend may have existed. For what it’s worth, the Missouri offense was terrific in the opening road loss to Wyoming; it was the run defense that no-showed and allowed the Cowboys to spring the upset.

Furthermore, the Tiger offense hasn’t been foolproof at home. The best defense they’ve faced in Columbia was South Carolina’s, and it’s not all that close. The Tigers won that game 34-14, but two of their touchdowns were defensive. The offense only scored 20 points, albeit with a missed field goal, and it logged a success rate of just 35% for the game.

It’s also worth mentioning that Mizzou hasn’t faced a murder’s row of a schedule. Going off this week’s SP+ ratings, their average home opponent rates No. 67 and the average road opponent is No. 58.8. The four home FBS wins came over rebuilding No. 96 West Virginia (presently 3-6), No. 38 South Carolina (4-6), No. 79 Troy (4-5), and No. 55 Ole Miss (4-6). The four road losses came to No. 70 Wyoming (6-3), No. 105 Vanderbilt (2-7), No. 56 Kentucky (4-5), and No. 4 Georgia (8-1). The Tigers themselves clock in at No. 30.

I think it’s probably more accurate to say Missouri has played lousy on the road more than they play amazingly at home. At home against No. 55, they won 38-27. On the road against No. 56, a team playing a wide receiver at quarterback, they lost 29-7 albeit with a slowed or backup quarterback a lot of the way.

And again, that starting quarterback getting hurt majorly affected the team in two of the four road games. Not that Mizzou was likely to beat UGA, but the defense held the Bulldogs to five yards per play, only allowed two touchdowns, and forced four field goal attempts. Getting literally any help at all from the offense would’ve changed the complexion of that game entirely. I should say: that road game entirely.

I can’t explain Missouri’s road loss to Vanderbilt, but consider the rest. Half the team didn’t show for the road loss to Wyoming, and, given how much the offense relies on Bryant, the other half disappeared for a lot of the road loss to Kentucky and couldn’t show up for the road loss to Georgia. Several of the team’s comfortable home wins were running it up on bad teams. The two defensive scores disguise how much the offense struggled against South Carolina. Probably the most complete home win all things considered was the one over a volatile Ole Miss team that’s also bowl-banned and is itself better at home than on the road.

Florida can absolutely lose this game to Missouri if it doesn’t play its A game and the Tigers do. I don’t think it’ll be because of some mystical home magic Mizzou has this year that disappears on the road. The truth, as is so often the case in college football, is that small sample sizes of games can make all kinds of patterns appear to exist more strongly than they actually do.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2