Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference just as the defense-heavy league began to earn some renown for its teams’ scoring potential. But if the first seven weeks of this season are any indication, the Tigers are primed for an old-fashioned SEC defensive struggle with Florida today in Gainesville, Fla. (6 p.m., ESPN2).
“They’re like most teams in this league,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of the Gators. “They’ve got good defensive players, and they pass-rush well. This is not anything we haven’t seen before, and they’re very very talented. Last week’s guys were talented, too. Welcome to the SEC.”
Both Missouri and Florida rank among the top five SEC teams in sacks, but a supposed low-scoring affair might have less to do with suffocating defenses and more to do with futile offenses.
Missouri is the third lowest-scoring team in the SEC and Florida is the fourth-lowest.
The Tigers’ offense reached a new low point last week in a 34-0 home loss to Georgia. It was the first time Missouri failed to score in a game since 2002, and the numbers weren’t pretty.
• Five turnovers.
• 147 total yards of offense.
• 0-for-7 on third down conversions.
As for Florida, the Gators have put up just 317.5 yards per game in conference play and have three turnovers in each of their last three games.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel in particular has struggled. The junior is responsible for eight turnovers in his last 11 quarters and will split time with freshman Treon Harris against Missouri.
Harris, who was recently suspended for sexual battery accusations, rallied Florida to a 10-9 win against Tennessee with two fourth-quarter scoring drives.
“One’s more athletic than the other, I think, but for the most part they run the same offense,” Pinkel said. “I would expect to see both, since Harris was supposed to be the starter the week before, then the incident was resolved and he’s back playing now.”
Linebacker Michael Scherer said the Tigers will have to keep the quarterback run in check.
“You’ve got to know what guy is good at what and what the offensive coordinator wants to do with each guy,” he said. “I know they’ve been running Driskel a lot. I just watched the LSU game, and he threw a lot of deep balls, and they ran him almost similar to a Tim Tebow type of offense, it looked like, by the way they’re running him.”
Through the air, the Tigers will have to keep an eye on Demarcus Robinson. He is second in the SEC in receiving yards per game (95.2) and is one of only 11 players in the country to have caught more than one pass of 70-plus yards.
Robinson put up 216 receiving yards against Kentucky, making him the first Florida player since 2002 to tally 200 receiving yards in a game.
“He’s a big-play guy,” Pinkel said. “He’s a guy that can turn a 10-yard gain into a 40-yard gain. … He can go up and get the ball in traffic and make catches. He’s a real good player, and we certainly have to be aware of where he’s at.”
The two teams will be jostling for position in the SEC East. The Gators (3-2, 2-2 in SEC play) and the Tigers (4-2, 1-1) are third and fourth in the division, respectively. Their three combined SEC wins have come by a cumulative total of eight points and all three required either a fourth-quarter comeback or multiple overtimes.
Today marks the third meeting between the teams as SEC foes.
In 2012, the 4-4 Tigers were struggling to remain afloat when they met the No. 8 Gators in Gainesville. Missouri had a chance to pull off the upset but fell 14-7 after quarterback James Franklin’s fourth interception of the day. That was the last time a Missouri quarterback threw that many interceptions in a game before last week, when Maty Mauk threw four against Georgia.
When the Tigers and Gators met last year, No. 14 Missouri was on its way up, defeating No. 22 Florida 36-17 on its way to an SEC East title. Florida was headed in the opposite direction. The defeat to Missouri was the second of seven straight losses to end Florida’s season.
The game was Mauk’s first start for the Tigers, and he filled in for an injured Franklin admirably, throwing for 295 yards.
Mauk’s ability to bounce back from last week’s loss — his first-ever shut out — will go a long way to determining whether the Tigers can rebound from their biggest thumping since 2009. The sophomore quarterback completed just 9-of-21 passes against Missouri and faced criticism on social media after the game.
“Obviously I see Twitter, but I mean, you go and you click and see who says stuff, it really doesn’t matter,” Mauk said. “I just look at who the people are, and it has no effect on me.”
Pinkel said he never thought of pulling Mauk during the Georgia blowout.
“Nope,” Pinkel said. “He’s our guy.”
Good to hear, Mauk said, but that’s not news to him.
“I know that I’m the starting quarterback, and I know I’ve got work to do, and everybody’s got work to do.”
Notes: Before 2012, the two teams had only met once, a 20-18 Missouri win in the 1966 Sugar Bowl. Florida quarterback Steve Spurrier, who coached the Gators from 1990-2001 and currently coaches South Carolina, was named the MVP. … Missouri has the third-most sacks in the SEC, and Florida has allowed the least. … Missouri hasn’t lost a non-neutral site road game since Nov. 24, 2012. The Tigers’ seven straight road wins is the third-longest active streak in the country. … The Tigers are 7-2 coming off a loss since joining the SEC. … Missouri has 10 players from Florida on its roster. Florida’s roster has no Missouri players.