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Florida vs. Missouri, Sunday Afternoon Post: Gators show out in the Show-Me

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Florida’s road win at Missouri was impressive, but depth made it hard for any one player to stand out — except Jonathan Greenard.

Florida v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The Florida Gators topping the Missouri Tigers happened yesterday. These words about that game are probably not going to mean all that much to you, because that game wasn’t exactly thrilling in any respect.

But, you know, thoughts are thoughts.

Here are our Sunday afternoon takeaways from this game, which come without having given it or its highlights a second viewing.

Florida made Home Mizzou look like Road Mizzou

Entering Saturday, Missouri’s season was cleaved pretty neatly into two parts:

  • At home: 5-0; 40.4 points per game; 11.6 points per game allowed; double-digit wins over West Virginia, South Carolina, Ole Miss by
  • On the road: 0-4; 13.0 points per game; 28.5 points per game allowed; losses to Wyoming, Vanderbilt

So, at a field that had been a locale for a couple of humiliating defeats, at 11 a.m. local time, and in the coldest game they have played thus far this year, the Gators held Missouri under its road scoring average, more than doubled its home scoring average allowed, and generally controlled a game from kickoff to triple zeroes.

I thought Missouri — especially the version of the Tigers that showed up at home for much of the year — was likely a half-step up from the dregs of Florida’s schedule, but Florida beat the Tigers like they were among those stragglers. (And Florida did so without the benefit of not having Kelly Bryant taking snaps, something Georgia lucked out with last week — and has lucked out with this year.) (Hey, did you know that Georgia’s only played one road game a month this year, and that two of the three were at Vanderbilt and Tennessee?)

Add Missouri to the list of the four teams that Florida has utterly outclassed this year (UT-Martin, Tennessee, Towson, and Vanderbilt), and five Florida games have gone to the Gators by a composite score of 196-9.

Florida’s defense answered the call — and the alarm

Dan Mullen made a point in this postgame presser to note that Florida’s offense moved the ball pretty effectively all day, and he was right: Florida had just one three-and-out in the first half, and gained 24 yards on each of its first five drives even though it netted under 25 on two of them thanks to losses. The Gators just didn’t score any touchdowns until the second half, partly because of that uncanny ability to take losses.

It was a good thing, then, that Florida’s defense was raring to go from the jump.

Missouri’s first drive was a three-and-out. Its second and third stalled near midfield. Its fourth got deep into Florida territory on two deep balls — the second one the exact sort of safety-befuddling one we’ve seen be a weird bugaboo for Florida all year — and yet only got three points. Its fifth through eighth were three-and-outs, and though its ninth produced a second field goal, Florida had scored a touchdown by then.

This was a great defensive effort on a day that called for it, and while Jonathan Greenard had the showy day in the middle of it — six tackles, five tackles for loss (!), two sacks — it was a true team effort. No Gator had more than six tackles, but seven had at least four, 11 had at least two, and 20 had at least one on defense. Those tackles were generally quite good in space, with multiple stand passes gaining nothing after the catch and Larry Rountree III, a Florida nemesis the last two years — over which time he ran for 155 yards at better than five yards a carry and scored four touchdowns — getting bottled up for 30 yards on seven carries.

Florida’s defense has had two big, showy system failures this year: Getting utterly bombed by LSU and getting shredded on third down for an entire afternoon against Georgia. Those games fitting a pattern of Todd Grantham’s unit not matching up to the best offenses it sees are legitimate cause for concern going forward.

But apart from those failures, this defense has been pretty damn good, with a grad transfer no one thought of as a game-changer literally until his first game on the field as its leader and a lot of relatively unheralded players stepping their game up to help support a few positions where injury and underperformance have been issues.

Depending on which of those players stick around, which ones step up, and which other ones are brought in next year, this defense might have room to grow on what has already been a special season.

Florida’s QB quandary is a good problem, but one that is going to be tricky to manage

Kyle Trask narrowly missed throwing for 300 yards for the second straight game on Saturday. Had he found 18 more yards somewhere, he would have become the first Florida QB since Rex Grossman to have consecutive 300-yard games.

(Rex did this twice in his junior season — thrice if you count the last game of his sophomore season and first game of his junior year as back-to-back games — and also threw for 300 yards in each of the first nine games of his sophomore season. Rex was an alien, and Rex was robbed of the 2001 Heisman Trophy.)

Trask also threw two passes that should’ve been pick sixes in this game, only for Missouri defenders to fail to catch passes that hit them in the hands. And his first half was weird enough that I saw honest-to-Tebow calls for him to be benched on Twitter. And I cannot shake the belief that, even though Trask has been average at worst, very good on a regular basis, and excellent in some instances, it’s possible — maybe even likely — that Florida could be better with either Feleipe Franks or Emory Jones at quarterback.

I think Franks and Jones would both be higher-variance players, but ones with higher ceilings than Trask. Franks probably throws more picks than Trask has, and maybe doesn’t make as many of the intermediate throws low-stress ones, but he also unlocks more deep-ball passing than we’ve seen for a lot of this year, and also serves as an upgrade on Trask’s mobility. Jones is obviously an even bigger upgrade in terms of mobility — he’s as fluid a runner as Florida has ever had at quarterback, I’d argue — and throws a really pretty ball, so we have plenty of reason to believe he could throw effectively in this offense, but he’s obviously green and we have little sense of how good he is at reading defenses, given that he’s mostly been used in packages designed to maximize his legs and not as a passer.

All three of those quarterbacks could be back at Florida in 2019. I think that at least one of them won’t be, given how few snaps there are to go around.

There are worse problems than having two established and experienced quarterbacks and a talented backup behind them; Florida could lose any one of the three, I think, and not have a major issue on its hands. And keeping Jones, the only one who would have more than a year of eligibility remaining in 2020, would seem to be priority enough for Florida to take the steps necessary — maybe promising him extensive 2020 playing time, or that he’ll be the starter in 2021 no matter what — to ensure his return.

But Florida’s going from unlikely harmony in a discordant season to having three accomplished and/or talented soloists vying for first chair. Don’t be surprised if there are some sour notes played as that shift happens.

Greenard bolsters SEC Defensive Player of the Year case

Allow me to quote myself:

Greenard is a more interesting case, because this is his second SEC Defensive Player of the Week nod — and because he might actually have an argument for being the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He’s only got four sacks and seven tackles for loss on the year — somehow — but those numbers have him in the top 15 in the conference in both categories, and he’s just three sacks and TFLs off the SEC leaders in each category because this hasn’t been a great year for pass-rushers in the conference.

Greenard also has a forced fumble, a fumble recovery — for six, mind — and an interception, and has notched some PBUs and hurries to go with his other stats. And he’s playing for — anchoring, really — what has to be either the best or second-best defense in the league.

Looking around the league, Auburn’s Derrick Brown has stats pretty similar to Greenard’s, and I expect that his higher profile gives him a leg up on the Louisville transfer. Beyond Brown, though, I don’t see a lot of top-level competition for the award — and Greenard still has chances to add to his stats or have another disruptive game, like everyone else. If he can be as good as he has been at his best over Florida’s final two contests, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he’s earned this honor at season’s end.

Greenard’s monster game against Missouri now has him tied for third in the SEC in sacks, alone in first in the SEC in tackles for loss by 1.5 TFLs, and within the league’s top 50 in tackles — rare for an edge rusher. And he’s done that in approximately nine games, having missed the South Carolina game and missed all but a few snaps of the LSU game.

Oh, and his last game is against the only team that has allowed exactly as many sacks this year as the Miami team he terrorized in Week 1 — and it’ll be at home.

If Greenard isn’t currently the leading candidate for SEC DPOY, he’s very, very close — and he has a chance to put an exclamation point or three on his resume in two weeks.

Other notes

  • I know “We too deep” is an Oklahoma-Clemson fight, but it’s literally true for Florida’s wide receivers (and Kyle Pitts, and maybe Lamical Perine). No Gator is among the SEC’s top 10 in receiving yards per game; four (Pitts, Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, and Trevon Grimes) are among the top 20. No Gator has cracked 600 receiving yards this year, but adding any two of the top eight receivers together would yield no worse than 49 catches for 426 yards and six touchdowns — a better line than any single Florida pass-catcher had in 2017. This is as deep as any Florida wide receiver corps has ever been — and, y’know, there were times when Reidel Anthony, Jacquez Green, and Ike Hilliard were all in that unit.
  • Florida’s three running backs in this game: Nine carries, 23 yards. Emory Jones: Six carries, 39 yards. It’s honestly just funny.