Sep 3, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; The Florida Gators take the field from their tunnel before a football game against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
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The No. 18 Florida Gators return to the gridiron this weekend as they host the Missouri Tigers on Saturday afternoon inside The Swamp.
The Gators will look to remain undefeated at home this season as Missouri comes to town for another SEC clash. Florida beat Missouri 21-3 last year on the road, but two years ago, the Tigers embarrassed the Orange and Blue in their own stadium blowing them out 42-13.
Hopefully that doesn’t happen again.
In order for a blowout NOT to happen again, here are five keys for the Gators if they want to come out on top with a Homecoming victory against the Missouri Tigers.
Sep 17, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators running back Mark Thompson (24) carries the ball to score a touchdown during the second half against the North Texas Mean Green at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the North Texas Mean Green 32-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
1. The Gators need to score first.
This seems obvious, but the Gators are a much better team when they have the lead and are in control of the game. They struggle when they’re down as you witnessed in the Tennessee game.
So, obviously, the best way for the Gators to take control of the game is to score first, which will fire up the team and the home crowd. Florida has scored first in all five of their games this season but are 4-1 in those games – the lone loss coming against Tennessee.
It will be important for the offense to set the tone early and put some points up on the board against Mizzou.
Hopefully, the offense will look better with the return of quarterback Luke Del Rio. This will be Del Rio’s first start since injuring his leg after taking a low hit by a North Texas player. Prior to his injury, Del Rio led the Gators to a 3-0 start, while throwing for 762 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
I expect him to be a little rusty in the early going, but if he can march the Gators down the field and into the end zone to start the game, that immediately puts the pressure on Missouri.
Oct 1, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Florida Gators running back Jordan Scarlett (25) runs for a first down during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
2. The Gators MUST run the ball against Missouri to have success.
The Tigers gave up a whopping 418 rushing yards to LSU and Leonard Fournette didn’t even play in that game.
Florida’s leading rusher is Jordan Scarlett with 274 yards on the year to go along with four touchdowns. McElwain has been using a four running back rotation, but it’s time to chuck that out the window and let Scarlett be the primary guy.
Now in order to succeed in the run game, the offensive line has to create lanes for the backs to burst through. I imagine after watching the way LSU ran the ball against Missouri, the Florida running backs and O-line must be licking their chops.
Being able to run the ball effectively will also take some pressure off Luke Del Rio by allowing him to avoid throwing in long yardage situations.
2nd & 4 is a lot more manageable than 2 & 9.
It’s time for the run game to have a breakout performance.
Oct 10, 2015; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback Drew Lock (3) is sacked by Florida Gators defensive lineman Joey Ivie (91) during the first half at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
3. The Gator defense will have to pressure Missouri QB Drew Lock.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock leads the SEC in passing yards with 1675 yards and he’s tied for second in touchdowns with 14.
Now some of those numbers are inflated because of the competition the Tigers have faced, but still Lock can be dangerous if you give him time in the pocket.
His favorite target is wide receiver J’Mon Moore. Up to this point, the junior’s racked up 450 yards on 27 receptions, but only had one catch for 16 yards against LSU.
I would bet Teez Tabor will be the one matched up against Moore this weekend, in order to try and shut him down.
It’s up to the Florida defense to pressure Lock into forcing bad throws. LSU held him to a season low 167 passing yards only allowing him to complete 17 passes. So that shows he can be neutralized and with the Gators having the top pass defense in the conference, there should be no reason Lock throws it all over the field if the ‘D’ creates pressure.
Apr 8, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Jalen Tabor (31) looks on during the first quarter of the Orange and Blue game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
4. Forcing turnovers will be a major key for Florida to beat Missouri.
Last year when the Gators played the Tigers, they intercepted Drew Lock twice including a 40-yard TD interception return by Teez Tabor. On that night Florida won the turnover battle and they will have to do the same thing again this Saturday.
Currently, Florida’s defense has the best turnover margin (+10) in the SEC while also leading the conference with eight interceptions – three of those by Tabor.
If the defense can create pressure like I mentioned in my previous key, then the Gators should force some turnovers.
On the flip side, Florida can’t turn the ball over if they want to win because turnovers usually come back to bite you and good teams will turn those mistakes into points.
Dec 5, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) returns a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter past Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Rashaan Evans (32) in the 2015 SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
5. How about scoring a special teams touchdown?
Do you remember the last time the Gators got a special teams touchdown?
Try 11 months ago in the SEC Championship against Alabama.
Antonio Callaway had a 85-yard punt return touchdown in that game.
Since then, the Gators don’t have a single special teams TD.
In five games this season, they have yet to take a punt or kick off return to the house. Callaway is still the primary punt returner, but he only has 32 return yards on nine attempts.
Special teams touchdowns don’t happen all that often, but when they do, they can be a game-changing factor.
Missouri has one punt return touchdown on the year, so they’re not a huge threat in that phase.
Even if special teams can’t score a touchdown, getting big gains on kickoff or punt returns can set the offense up with a short field and that can certainly help a unit that already struggles to score as it is.
So will this be the game that the Florida special teams unit ends their 11-month touchdown drought?