We’re back! Maybe!
After a very challenging two weeks, Florida Gators football is back on the weekend schedule. While things could change before this Saturday’s clash against Missouri, it’s looking like the season will be resuming on Halloween night.
Missouri started rough with blowout losses to Alabama and Tennessee, but has turned it around and won back to back games. What changed from early in the season to now?
Sammy Stava: I think a lot of it had to do with the scheduling and timing. Playing Alabama (arguably the best team in the country) and on the road at Tennessee (which, at the time, had the longest active winning streak among Power Five teams) in the first two games of the season wasn’t a great recipe for success for a young, rebuilding team still trying to find their identity.
Missouri then caught a huge break against LSU as they avoided playing them in Baton Rouge due to Hurricane Sally — but, credit to Mizzou, they took full advantage of that. I know it isn’t anywhere near the same LSU team as last season, but that signature victory gave them some confidence and momentum. Along with that, Missouri got an unexpected bye week before the Kentucky game and had plenty of motivation going into that contest having lost the previous five meetings to UK. It’s just been the perfect storm — no pun intended — the last two games for this team.
The quarterback change has also sparked this team and now Missouri has a clear answer at the position, which they didn’t at the start of this season.
There was a quarterback battle in the offseason early on, but redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak has asserted himself as the guy for the Tigers. How impressed are you with Bazelak this season?
I am really impressed with Connor Bazelak so far this season, and quite shocked. Bazelak is a redshirt freshman coming off a torn ACL a season ago, but he looks like a senior out there. Aside from the four touchdown game he had against LSU, his numbers and stats in the other games aren’t exactly flashy, but they really don’t need need to be. Bazelak has been impressive as a game manager quarterback and will make the necessary plays when the team needs it the most.
He is certainly the QB that gives Missouri the best chance to win each Saturday.
Missouri has played a pair of juggernaut offenses in Alabama and LSU and struggled accordingly. Taking that into account, how good actually is this defense, and do you expect them to contain an explosive Gators offense?
I think this Missouri defense is still pretty good. They’re well coached and have some talented pieces, but they could get mostly overwhelmed when facing superior offenses. They made the right plays at the right time in their last two wins, but it’s been difficult to contain Alabama and LSU.
I think that will continue against a high powered Florida offense, especially on the road. If this defense wants to have success against the Gators, they’ll need a huge game from their star linebacker Nick Bolton.
Eli Drinkwitz was brought in to replace Barry Odom following a rather disappointing tenure. I know it’s a very small and weird sample size, but what are the impressions of the former Appalachian State head coach and do you believe he’s the guy for this program?
Eli Drinkwitz has come in and basically changed the culture of this Missouri football program. It’s a whole new era and new level of excitement. His recruiting is off to a tremendous start by Missouri’s standards. This season was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but perhaps expectations are starting to change with this team on the fly. I think the goal for this season was to get a signature win for fans to get excited about the future, and he’s already done that.
But I also want to be careful, because he is the second-youngest Power Five head coach only behind Lincoln Riley. Maybe he is the next Riley; who knows? Probably, it’s too early to tell. So far, though, indications have shown that he’s the right guy and right fit for this Missouri football program.
This is one of the biggest games of the season for Missouri. How do you expect it to unfold and do you have a prediction?
It’s hard to believe, but Missouri is potentially playing for a Top 25 ranking and SEC East implications in this game. Mizzou is playing with a lot of confidence and momentum right now against a Florida team that hasn’t played since October 10th.
However, I think the moment gets too big for the Tigers here, as a road night game in The Swamp will be too much for them. It’s a highly entertaining game going into the fourth quarter, but the Gators pull away with a 34-24 victory.