Florida vs. Missouri: Leave the letdowns to other teams

Sam Greenwood

Missouri isn't a trap game for Florida; it's a potential letdown game. The Gators are built to avoid those.

This week, there has been backlash to the idea that Florida's a good team after a six-turnover debacle that was still almost close enough to go into overtime. Florida fans, myself included, have felt like the Gators' season is essentially over in some way because the next three games will have little bearing on anything but Florida's record; non-Florida fans, like more than a few Florida State fans who couldn't wait for the Gators to disappoint with more on the line and a harder foe across the line of scrimmage than the Seminoles did in gagging against N.C. State, have wanted to point at a Florida loss as the evidence that everything to this point has been fluky, luck-based, unsustainable winning.

I think both of those reactions have obscured four important points, and made this week far more about Florida's loss to Georgia than its game against Mizzou. And while the relative quiet about this game would normally signal a potential for a letdown game, those points are part of why I'm not all that worried about Florida losing a second straight game to Missouri.

Florida almost certainly isn't going to commit six turnovers in a game again. Teams just don't commit six turnovers very often. Florida hasn't committed more than four turnovers in any other game since 2007. Houston and Idaho, the most generous teams in college football this year, have 25 turnovers each through eight and seven games, respectively; 15 of Houston's 25 came in nine- and six-turnover debacles, but Idaho has only lost more than four once, giving away the ball five times against North Carolina.

Florida's defense did one hell of a job. Georgia started three drives in Florida territory that didn't result in points. That opening-drive touchdown was a hellish bit of short-change defense (the Gators didn't look set at all); the last two drives were a fatigue-based failure and a clock-killing chunk of yardage. Those three drives accounted for more than half of Georgia's yardage on the day, as the Gators' D managed to stop the bleeding for much of the middle of the game. And it did that with Damien Jacobs out of the rotation at defensive tackle and Jelani Jenkins chilling on the sideline. Missouri's offense is ... not quite Georgia-caliber.

Will Muschamp's last defense at Texas was underrated even before Manny Diaz's units developed a tendency to spontaneously combust because it was really good despite being put in awful situations by a struggling offense time and again. His defenses at Florida have been similarly underrated: Even though they're not dominant, and even though they still do stupid things from time to time, and especially though they're not proficient at making negative plays happen routinely, they don't make many mistakes when it matters most. Florida's allowed just one team, Alabama last year, to convert more than half of its third downs under Muschamp, and the Gators went 9-for-10 on third down against Georgia ... though the lone conversion was the Dawgs' game-sealing touchdown pass.

Asking a defense to cobble together a game good enough to nullify six turnovers is insane if that defense belongs to the 1985 Chicago Bears — who lost their only game when the offense committed four turnovers against the Miami Dolphins on a Monday night. But Florida's very nearly turned a Sisyphean task into a Herculean feat.

Florida's been great at home. Like, two touchdowns allowed all year great. 7.8 points per game allowed great. Third in the nation in time of possession and fifth in opponents' third down conversion percentage great. And Florida's scored 27, 38, 14, and 44 points in The Swamp. There's an undefeated SEC homestand on the line (last accomplished in 2009) for the Gators if they get things done on Saturday.

Florida is built to overcome adversity. (Really.) Muschamp's sound bite from two weeks ago is definitely about dealing with penalties in its first connotation, but I can imagine him using the phrase to mean any manner of things. The Gators' injuries on Saturday took a few important things (Solomon Patton, mostly) out of their arsenal, and Brent Pease had to figure out something to do that wasn't run Mike Gillislee for two yards; they managed to get within Jordan Reed's fumble of having a chance to tie the game by the end of it despite devising a strategy for coming back without a lot of time or a downfield passing game on the fly.

That improvisation's been a hallmark for the Gators all year. The lack of a lot of elite talent on the offensive line has been ameliorated by a rotation that has kept players mostly fresh; the use of Trey Burton as a Swiss Army tool has been about forcing other teams to account for as many ways to gain three yards as possible; Patton's sweeps have been taking a spread concept and using it as a counter to pro-style foundations. Andre Debose being in Pease's doghouse is the biggest issue, because he's a waste of speed on the sideline and fly routes are a waste of time when he's not in the game.

The 2008 Alabama comparison's been a fun one to draw all year, because of the similarities between Muschamp and Nick Saban and the philosophies of their respective teams, but both have plenty of flaws. (That 'Bama team was quarterbacked by John Parker Wilson, remember.) The trick is to figuring out where their flaws are (something Muschamp's very good at), minimizing them, and taking advantage of the strengths as much as possible.

That's been something the Gators have done against much better teams than Mizzou all year. And so I'm expecting them to do the same on Saturday.

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