The 2019 Missouri Tigers (5-4, 2-3 SEC) are a tale of two vastly different teams. At home, they’re 5-0 and averaging 40.8 points-per-game. On the road, they’re 0-4 and averaging just 13 points per game. For the No. 11 Gators (8-2, 5-2) to keep their bid for a New Year’s Six bowl alive, they’ll have to stop that trend on Saturday in Columbia.
Here are three positions of strength, three positions of weakness and three players to watch for from Missouri.
Three Positions of Strength
The Tigers lead the SEC and are fourth nationally in passing defense at 147.7 yards-per-game. The second-best passing defense in the conference is Kentucky at 184.1 yards-per-game, nearly a 40-yard difference. They’ve intercepted eight passes, which ranks seventh in the league. They’re allowing opponents to score in the red zone 76.2 percent of the time, which is fifth. Safety Joshuah Bledsoe leads the team with seven pass breakups, while safety Tyree Gillespie has added five. Backup safety Ronnell Perkins has recorded the secondary’s only two interceptions. The Gators are third in the conference in passing at more than 288 yards-per-game, nearly double what Missouri is giving up. This matchup should play a crucial role in deciding the outcome of the game.
As the Tigers’ No. 2 running back in 2018, Larry Rountree ranked fourth in the SEC in rushing with 1,216 yards, and he scored 11 touchdowns. Against the Gators, he rushed for 72 yards and a score on 14 carries. As the main ballcarrier this season, he’s rushed for 668 yards and eight touchdowns on 139 attempts. They have solid depth at the position, as Tyler Badie has added 361 yards and a pair of scores on 83 carries, and Dawson Downing has carried 36 times for 225 yards and a score.
Nick Bolton is one of the SEC’s more well-rounded linebackers. As a run-stuffer, he leads the SEC with 82 tackles, and he also leads the Tigers with 7.5 tackles-for-loss. In coverage, he’s tied for second on the team with two interceptions and tied for third with four pass breakups. He’s also added a sack. Cameron Wilkins has added 32 tackles, three tackles-for-loss and an interception. This unit has helped pave the way for a defense that ranks second in the conference in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.
Three Positions of Weakness
Missouri is giving up 140.1 rushing yards-per-game, just eighth in the conference. They’re 12th in the SEC with 14 sacks and tied for eighth with 51 tackles-for-loss. Defensive end Chris Turner (two sacks) and tackle Kobie Whiteside (four sacks) are the only defensive linemen with multiple sacks. They’re a solid unit with veteran players, but they’re a weakness in comparison to the seven players behind them.
Despite the depth at running back and a mobile quarterback, the Tigers still rank just sixth in the conference in rushing at 169.4 yards-per-game. They’ve allowed quarterbacks Kelly Bryant and Taylor Powell to be sacked 19 times. Their poor blocking has led to Bryant getting injured twice this season, including a hamstring injury that might prevent him from playing again on Saturday. The unit is very young, as seven of the 10 players in the two-deep are either freshmen or sophomores. Florida’s defensive line has dominated offensive lines with a similar makeup this season.
Tucker McCann handles both the kicking and punting responsibilities. He’s done all right as a punter, as his 43.7-yard net average ranks sixth in the league. However, he’s just 11-for-17 as a kicker, including just 9-for-15 from 30+ yards. Their 61.1 success rate on field goals ranks tied for 105th in the country. Their 16.4-yard average on kickoff returns ranks 120th. Meanwhile, they’re giving up 28.3 yards on their opponents’ kickoff returns and 10.1 yards on punt returns. UF should have the field position advantage.
Three Players to Watch
Linebacker Nick Bolton
He’s going to be all over the field. UF’s offensive line will need to identify him before every snap, as he should be priority No. 1 in the running game. On passing plays, UF’s Kyle Trask has a tendency to throw one or two passes right at a linebacker per game. If he does so again on Saturday, there’s a decent chance that Bolton catches it.
Tight End Albert Okwuegbunam
He’s commonly referred to as “Albert O” for obvious reasons, and he was viewed as one of the top tight ends in the country prior to the season. He was named First Team All-SEC and a finalist for the John Mackey Award after a 2018 season that saw him catch 43 passes for 466 yards and six touchdowns in just nine games due to injury. His statistics are bit down this season, as he’s caught 22 passes for 280 yards and six scores. Still, he’s a huge weapon over the middle of the field for the Tigers, and the Gators’ safeties struggled mightily to defend the middle of the field two weeks ago against Georgia. Whoever plays quarterback for Missouri will probably look his way a lot.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant/Taylor Powell
Bryant and Powell are completely different styles of quarterbacks, so which one of them plays will make a huge difference in the game. Bryant is an experienced graduate transfer from Clemson who can make special things happen with his feet, while Powell is a less-heralded pocket-passer. UF’s actually fared a bit better this season against mobile quarterbacks than pocket-passers, and backups have had some success against them. So, maybe it would be better for them to face Bryant. How the Gators adjust based on who plays quarterback should be a big key to the game.