We’re back with the second part of our matchup breakdown and in this installment we’ll take a look at each team’s passing game and the ever important yet often overlooked special teams.
There are two new starters for the Florida Gators on special teams this week in Frankie Velez and Johnny Townsend and a new quarterback for the Tigers in Maty Mauk. Before we ruin the surprise, let’s dive into the breakdown.
Florida Offense vs. Missouri Defense
Nick de la Torre: All right Richard, we’re back to talk about the passing attack. Tyler Murphy came in for Jeff Driskel and injected new life into Florida’s passing attack before struggling against LSU. Missouri brings a similar athletic defensive front compared to what Florida faced last week and they are second in the SEC with 17 sacks. Where do you see the advantage going when Florida tries to pass the ball?
Richard Johnson: There’s been a lot of talk about the Tigers bringing pressure looks, and even more talk about the main problem for Florida in pass blocking last week being miscommunication. Those two mixed together could spell trouble in my mind. Tyler Murphy has looked smoother running this offense through the air but there are still things to be desired. The way to neutralize a good pass rush is by running a quick game with bubble screens and slants, in other words, a lot of what Florida already does. To me, that doesn’t give Florida an advantage in the passing game because they aren’t doing anything to break games opens downfield through the air. The edge goes to Missouri as long as they can tackle Solomon Patton and not allow him to take a bubble screen to the house.
ND: You hit the nail on the head. The coaching staff talks about “explosive plays” a lot. They categorize an explosive play as a pass of more than 16-yards but when Tyler Murphy throws a 6-yard curl route and Patton takes it 50-yards to the house, is that really an explosive play? It looks like a great downfield pass on the stat sheet but it’s not. It creates an illusion that Florida is throwing the ball down the field when they’re really just moving with a dink and dunk offense.
I think the offensive line will continue to struggle. It took one practice for us to see that Tyler Moore wasn’t an SEC caliber offensive tackle. He isn’t athletic enough to keep up with a speed rush off of the edge and that’s exactly what Missouri will throw at him this week with Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and Markus Golden.
Richard’s Advantage: Missouri
Nick’s Advantage: Missouri
Richard’s X-Factor: Quinton Dunbar
Nick’s X-Factor: Missouri defensive ends
Florida Defense vs. Missouri Offense
ND: Let’s move into Florida’s pass defense against Missouri. Maty Mauk takes over for the next 3-5 weeks while James Franklin rehabs his shoulder. How do you see the game playing out when Missouri tries to throw the football?
RJ: If I’m Missouri and I’m forced to take shots in this game I force Loucheiz Purifoy into a one on one situation and I pick on him. In short pass situations, Purifoy has shown he isn’t a strong open field tackler. In deep pass situations he’s prone to pass interference penalties. Exploiting Florida over the middle with deep crosses to those big wide receivers could also work in the Tigers’ favor. On the flip side, throwing at Vernon Hargreaves or Marcus Roberson deep is dumb at best. And if you throw a screen pass, Cody Riggs flips a switch and become a seek and destroy torpedo coming up from the safety position.
ND: I agree. Purifoy is the weak link in the secondary right now. Roberson is also prone to some pass interference penalties but I’m more comfortable with him in coverage than I am with Purifoy. Vernon Hargreaves is going to start getting bored during games because I think teams will stop throwing his way when they realize it’s beneficial to their health and chances at winning when you keep the ball away from VHIII.
RJ: If it happens, the matchup to look for will be Dorial Green-Beckham against Hargreaves. While Hargreaves is very talented, he’s the shortest of Florida’s three corners at 5-11. Does Florida risk putting VHIII on the 6-6 Green-Beckham, and if they do can Hargreaves’ leaping ability cancel out the gap in height?
ND: You know better than to doubt Vernon Hargreaves III.
Also, the Missouri offensive line has struggled this season and rank 11th in sacks allowed. Last Saturday against Georgia was the first time all season that the five starting offensive linemen played every snap in a game and they will look to keep their first time starter clean against the Gators. It’s imperative for Florida to get a good pass rush and hit Maty Mauk early on before he builds up confidence and gets things rolling.
Richard’s Advantage: Florida
Nick’s Advantage: Florida
Richard’s X-Factor: Maty Mauk
Nick’s X-Factor: Dante Fowler Jr.
ND: Rich Eisen of NFL Network is quick to remind everyone that punters are people too. Florida is working with three new starters on special teams this week with kicker Frankie Velez, freshman punter Johnny Townsend and Vernon Hargreaves was also moved into the starting role at punt returner. Missouri has a sophomore place-kicker in Andrew Baggett who is 6-of-9 on the season and junior punter in Christian Bisner who is averaging just over 41-yards per punt. Not too great. Junior running back Marcus Murphy is only averaging 5.91 yards-per-punt return but a serviceable 22.9 average on kick returns.
RJ: When you look at Baggett, he’s missed three field goals, yes. But they’ve been at close range. He’s 3/3 on kicks greater than 40 yards, that will be key if Missouri has drives that stall before the red zone. The Tigers will need to come out with points and they can with Baggett. Nothing about Florida’s kicking situation makes me even the least bit inclined to give the Gators an edge in special teams. There’s too much uncertainty even though Velez was 2/2 against LSU.
ND: What about in the return game? Hargreaves has fielded just two punts this season for a grand total of five yards. Do you think Hargreaves can make a difference this week for a punt return unit that has been disappointing (and that’s putting it nicely)?
RJ: I think Hargreaves has the athleticism to make things happen. That was my problem with Trey Burton returning punts. He had a very nice return against Arkansas but didn’t have the game breaking speed to turn it into six points. Maybe Hargreaves does, we just don’t know yet because he hasn’t had that many chances as a returner.
ND: Very true. It can’t get much worse.
I’m interested in how Johnny Townsend will fare this week. The freshman is taking over for pre-season All-American Kyle Christy. Townsend was a late addition to the last recruiting class and I look forward to seeing how he will handle the pressure of his first collegiate game. If the game is close like it was last season, Townsend’s ability to flip the field could wind up being a huge factor in this game.
RJ: It’s not even just a length issue with Christy, but a placement issue. Part of the problem with Christy is that he had two chances to down the ball inside the 10 and failed and those are the reasons Muschamp cited in benching the kicker.
Richard’s Advantage: Missouri
Nick’s Advantage: Florida
Richard’s X-Factor: Andrew Baggett
Nick’s X-Factor: Johnny Townsend