Florida vs. Missouri, Threat Assessment: Four Tigers players to watch

Kevin C. Cox

Missouri is better than you think, and the loss of James Franklin may not declaw the Tigers.

Florida last saw Missouri less than a year ago, and did a fine job of shutting down the Tigers' offense in a 14-7 win in Gainesville that featured a near-immobile James Franklin tossing four interceptions to Florida's defense. But that game felt like an escape, even at home, because of how poorly Florida's offense played: It managed 276 yards against the Tigers, didn't score in the first half, and got bailed out by the Gators' defense, which sacked Franklin four times, harassed him all day, and snagged three of its four interceptions in Florida territory.

Florida can't count on the same sort of game on Saturday in Columbia, even if its offense looks a lot like that 2012 version right now. (Remember, Caleb Sturgis had one field goal blocked and didn't attempt another after an injury in that game.) And Missouri has more threats than it did last year, too.

Let's run them down.

RB Marcus Murphy

Murphy was one of the country's more dangerous returners in 2012, saving the Tigers with a punt return TD against UCF and scoring their only touchdown against Alabama on a kick return. He's been a lot quieter in the return game in 2013, but he's more than made up for it on the ground, averaging 8.76 yards per carry, which ranks eighth nationally.

Murphy's had at least 45 rushing yards in each of Missouri's six games this year, but no games of more than 70 — he's third on the Tigers' roster in rushing yards, behind Russell Hansbrough and Henry Josey (both of whom average more than 5.5 yards per carry), and though none of those backs tops 400 yards, Missouri's one of just a handful of teams with three players over 300 rushing yards on the season. James Franklin also has 290 rushing yards of his own this year.

Murphy's got very good agility and balance, and nice speed, all of which were on display during his touchdown run against Georgia.

Those qualities were less evident when he got shoved into a security guard at Vanderbilt.

WR L'Damian Washington

Missouri's got a slew of talented wide receivers — towering former uber-recruit Dorial Green-Beckham has the best NFL chances; Marcus Lucas leads the team in catches with 30; Bud Sasser is third nationally in passer rating — but Washington's been the best of the bunch this year, and showed why he's dangerous against Georgia, catching seven passes for 115 yards and skying for Sasser's throw on Mizzou's trick play touchdown:

Florida kept Washington quiet (two catches, 23 yards) in 2012, while Green-Beckham had arguably the best game of his freshman season (six catches, 73 yards), but both players have improved, and a healthy Franklin was doing better work than the hobbled version did last season. Then again, Missouri has no Franklin now. (This is a segue.)

QB Maty Mauk

Mauk is a redshirt freshman, and was part of Missouri's quarterback competition this spring and fall, though Franklin won it going away. Saturday's game will give Mauk his first collegiate start, and he's throw just six passes in his career — three against Murray State in Missouri's opener, and three in the fourth quarter against Georgia last week.

But that doesn't mean Mauk is without chops.

Two years ago, Mauk was finishing one of the most productive prep career a quarterback has ever had, claiming a slew of national passing records as his own — and taking some of them from his brother, former Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk, who served as Maty's offensive coordinator.

The younger Mauk was tabbed as the No. 7 dual threat quarterback in the country and a four-star prospect for 2011 by 247Sports' 247Composite ranking, but redshirted in 2012, as the slightly more highly-touted Corbin Berkstresser got his baptism as Franklin's injury-necessitated replacement. Mauk kept working, though, and his flattering comparisons aren't going away until on-field play proves them wrong.

DE Michael Sam

Missouri's defensive line did an excellent job of stressing Aaron Murray last Saturday, sacking him twice on crucial plays — one, which you can see below, allowed Sam to take a fumble to the end zone for six points.

As you can see in the highlight, Sam runs quite well, and his production this year has been excellent: He's tied for seventh nationally with six sacks, and had three sacks against both Arkansas State and Vanderbilt, earning SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors for both performances. Sam is also the only player nationally with two three-sack games.

And while Florida hemmed up Arkansas lineman Chris Smith, who came into the Razorbacks' game with Florida with six sacks and had none against the Gators, LSU defensive lineman Danielle Hunter ended Sam's SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week reign by terrorizing the Florida line last Saturday.

Star-divide

Andy Hutchins is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.

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