Eastern Washington Review / Missouri Preview

The Gators took care of business on the rarest of Sundays with a 52-17 win over EWU.  The outcome was never in doubt, as the offense was clicking early and often.  Give the Eagles credit – they moved the ball well occasionally on offense, and are an annual contender in the FCS division.  They were simply overpowered on defense and didn’t have the athletes Florida does.

Anthony Richardson was solid, despite a few incompletions due to poor mechanics – he still needs to rid himself of the habit of throwing off of his back foot too often.  He ran well early until he tweaked his ankle, but Jalen Kitna took over early and late and didn’t miss a beat.  Kitna at least didn’t appear overwhelmed, making good decisions and the proper reads, along with accurate throws.  It was a good thing for him to get some reps, as the schedule gets really difficult the next 4 games, and the Gators need a capable backup ready if needed.  The running game was solid, and the deep throws were a welcome sight.  The WRs played well – Justin Shorter and Caleb Douglas hauled in long TDs, and Ricky Pearsall took a 76-yard reverse to the house.

Florida’s defense played fairly well until the bench was cleared in the 4th quarter, but still looked weak against the run, and I’m afraid that isn’t getting fixed this season.  I would like to see Gervon Dexter moved to SSDE to at least set the edge properly, and let Chris McClellan start at DT, despite being a true freshman.  The LB corps was only marginally better at reading and filling the run lanes, while the secondary continues to struggle with the slant route.  The new starters were a mixed bag, with good plays offset by missed assignments.  But at least they were given the opportunity, and showed the coaching staff’s willingness to make some changes to try and shake things up.

Special teams are still poor.  Once again no return game of note, and EWU was able to block a FG attempt.  Trey Smack performed the kickoff duties while Adam Mihalek did the FG kicking, and perhaps this will be the norm going forward

It’s Homecoming week for Florida, and Missouri comes to Gainesville after taking Georgia to the wire last week at home.  They threw everything they had at the Puppies, and I wonder if they can come even close to replicating that effort a second straight week.  The Gators lost a day of game prep due to having the EWU game rescheduled to Sunday because of the impacts of Hurricane Ian – let’s hope Napier’s army of support staff can help make up some of the slack.

The Tiger offense is led by QB Brady Cook.  He is capable of scrambling when necessary to extend plays, and their offense is more reliant on the pass than in many years.  I hope they forget to run the ball too often, as the Gator secondary matches up well with their receivers.  Dominc Lovett is their top target, and if he is held in check, it will be harder on their offense to consistently move the ball.  However, until the run defense improves dramatically, it seems any offense will be able to move the ball and possess it longer than hoped, limiting Florida’s number of offensive snaps.  I would really like to see Gervon Dexter moved to SSDE to better set the edge against the run.  Chris McClellan needs to start at DT – he is showing flashes of being a very good player, and this would definitely improve the D-line overall.  Here’s hoping LB Ventrell Miller can play and play well – he has been playing hurt the past 2 games with an ankle injury.  The run defense is at it’s best when he’s in the game.

Missouri has had a run the past decade of some very good defensive linemen and linebackers, but this year three of their four leading tacklers are in the secondary, which shows a big dropoff along the LOS.  They are led by Florida transfer Tyron Hopper at LB, who has played very well this season and really hurt the Gators by transferring – especially at a position of huge need.  The Tigers essentially dared Georgia to throw last week, blitzing often and playing man coverage……and it worked.  I expect to see the same, making AR prove he can be a consistent threat throwing the ball while crowding the LOS to slow the Gator running game.  The slow-developing RPOs aren’t going to work until Florida hurts the defense through the air, along with running more effectively outside.  A few more swing passes to the RBs and jet sweeps by a real threat like Pearsall could prove effective.  Given the limited amount of snaps they get each game, efficiency from the offense is a priority.

Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz had his fun last year, punking Dancin’ Danny on and off the field.  I was going to label this game the continuation of Florida’s SEC East Revenge Tour, but after the debacle against Kentucky, along with a struggling defense, I just want to see an actual SEC win and to continue the recent positive trajectory of the team’s overall play.  I see this one not being settled until the 4th quarter, but hopefully with a different result this time.

Prediction: Florida 27 Missouri 24