A happier result awaits Mizzou against UCF

September 28, 2012

They say Orlando is the happiest place on Earth. It's hard to argue against that line. Between the sunshine and Lake Eola, Goofy and goofy resume work by current Central Florida coach George O'Leary that got him in hot water at Notre Dame, there's something for everyone: Mickey and men who know a mea culpa.

For Missouri, "The City Beautiful" is a sight for black eyes. The Tigers' first two Southeastern Conference games were like a visit to MGM Studios. There was buzz before bursting through the gates, but after 21-point routs by Georgia and South Carolina, Missouri learned life in the league is a scream following a tumble from its Tower of Terror.

Saturday could be a reprieve. The Tigers become the first SEC team to appear at Bright House Networks Stadium. The Knights are 2-13 against Mike Slive's constituents, the last victory coming against dem Dawgs in 2010. (They have topped coach Gary Pinkel twice, in 1997 and '98, when he led Toledo.)

This will be no stroll through the Magic Kingdom. But take heart, Truman: It's Central Florida – not Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney and all the other monsters from central South Carolina.

That's reason enough to be happy.

Onto Week 5…

How will Missouri try to turn its wide receivers loose?

"Where's DGB?" has become a hot topic in the Show-Me State. Offensive coordinator David Yost would be wise to show off someone, anyone, downfield.

A spread scheme that once bullied defenses has dangled from a hook by its boxers for most of the past month. Quarterback James Franklin has just 492 yards passing on 49 completions in three games played. Marcus Lucas leads Tigers wide receivers with 21 catches for 222 yards, T.J. Moe follows with 19 catches for 172 yards and L'Damian Washington has seven catches for 148 yards – but no other pair of hands has cracked at least 100 yards receiving. (Dorial Green-Beckham, meanwhile, has six catches for 48 yards when he's not M.I.A. Perhaps it's time to graduate past the jet-sweep role.)

No doubt, Franklin's confidence has played a part in the scramble of Mizzou's spread. At times, he looked like a cross between Kirk Farmer and Chase Patton while gritting his teeth through a 92-yard passing day last week against a defense that's the Rolls-Royce of the SEC East.

The maligned signal caller has Pinkel's blessing for now – apologies, Corbin Berkstresser backers – but a limp against Central Florida will add to the howls for change. The best thing U.S.S. Yost-Franklin can do to stay afloat is this: Rip a secondary that has allowed an average of 230 yards passing this season.

Central Florida is no Steel Curtain, but Franklin must steal a few big plays downfield to give Missouri life.

How will defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson attempt to continue his elite play?

It has happened. Mizzou's mouth has become more torment than tongue.

Since poking Georgia with his now-tired words about AARP members, the big guy in the middle has played like a man with no need for a Pride Pursuit PMV. He's second on the team in tackles with 24, behind only linebacker Will Ebner's 29. His 11 assisted tackles are tops for the Tigers. He can pressure. He has personality. He's backing up the hype that accompanied his smoke-and-laser-show arrival last year.

Richardson has become the bulging biceps of a unit that has allowed 25.5 points per game this season. It would be wise for the rest of the group to adopt his rugged style: Missouri's defense has been a strength, but it looked Steve Urkel-meek against South Carolina in surrendering 31 points and 396 yards. (Somewhere, Marcus Lattimore busted through another hole.)

Central Florida dumped Akron with 56 points and Florida International with 33, so quarterback Blake Bortles has shown he's no Jeff Blake in the pocket. Richardson must help keep the Knights under control.

What will happen?

Orlando serves two purposes in life: a.) To help you escape reality and b.) To remind you that it's not Miami.

For Missouri, this is a work trip, but it's also a vacation from the SEC grind. That happened fast, right? A month that began with visions of beating Georgia became a stiff right hook to the jaw.

The scene in CoMo before playing the Bulldogs was electric, historic and a memory to lock away for the future, when revisiting a fake punt on fourth-and-11 will draw a good laugh. The scene in Columbia, S.C., before playing the Gamecocks was another lesson in the culture of the Tigers' new conference home, where rolling into town on Wednesday is accepted behavior.

The kickoffs happened. The gut checks happened. Missouri left checking its pulse after both.

Being outscored 72-30 against the SEC East giants was a downer. But smile, be happy. The Tigers won't need to wish upon a star to avoid another loss Saturday.

Pick: Missouri 34, Central Florida 27

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.