The Florida Gators play their final SEC game of a disappointing 2021 campaign Saturday afternoon when they travel to the other Columbia in the SEC East and face the Missouri Tigers. Last time Florida traveled to Columbia to face a .500 divisional rival, things went, uh, poorly to say the least. After a wild 70-52 win over FCS Samford last week, Dan Mullen will hope his team has a spark that can end a tough season on a high note.
To help preview Saturday’s game against the Tigers, I asked Sammy Stava of Rock M Nation some questions to get a sense of this 2021 Missouri team.
Missouri sits at 5-5, equaling last season’s final record, and the Tigers have a decent shot at making a bowl game. But there was some hype around Mizzou preseason in this second season for Eli Drinkwitz. So: Has this season been a disappointment, or has it gone as expected?
I think Mizzou’s 5-5 record so far has been a mild disappointment, but not exactly a disaster considering their main expectation this season was to go 7-5, or 8-4 if everything went right.
The Tigers lost two swing games early in the season to Kentucky and Boston College on the road by one possession each. Those were tough losses, but it gave you hope for the rest of the season.
Then they lost 62-24 at home to Tennessee, which had to be considered one of the worst performing losses in program history. Since then, they have rebounded nicely going 3-2 in their last five games. Now they’re playing for bowl eligibility, which is something valuable for a rebuilding program. If they can get to six wins, I think it salvages something out of an underwhelming year.
Missouri’s defense is one of the worst in the entire country, allowing the second-most rushing yards per game in the country and more points per game than Vanderbilt. What has gone wrong for the Tigers’ defense this year?
Simply put, it’s just a roster that isn’t all that talented. And from last season — they lost their best defensive lineman, linebacker, and safety to the NFL Draft. Mix that in with a new defensive coordinator and there’s going to be some problems. However, there’s no excuse to be one of the worst defenses in the country.
Having said that, there have been some improvements made by this defense and I think they have gained some confidence with a respectable showing on the road at Georgia, even though they lost 43-6. Heck, defensive lineman Isaiah McGuire is coming off winning an SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honor.
Quarterback Connor Bazelak had flashes as a starter in 2020 and is back this season. How would you judge his performance in 2021 and do you expect him to play Saturday after dealing with a recent injury?
Connor Bazelak won SEC Freshman of the Year last season, but ever since he’s definitely had what you call a sophomore slump.
Last season, Bazelak did all the little things right, but wasn’t exactly an explosive QB. He’s made plenty of mistakes this season and I think that is due to the fact that he hasn’t been or looked healthy all year.
He got pulled from Missouri’s final offensive possession against South Carolina after throwing an interception where they couldn’t afford in that spot. Brady Cook took over with a 31-28 lead for the final minutes and the Tigers were able to hang on and beat South Carolina.
If I had to guess, I think we’ll see redshirt freshman Brady Cook get the start with true freshman Tyler Macon seeing some time as well. That was their quarterback plan on the road against Georgia.
Who are a few names Florida fans should look out for on Saturday?
If Missouri was only a two- or three-loss team, senior running back Tyler Badie just might be in the conversation for the Heisman — and his contention would be well-deserved.
It’s hard to imagine where the Tigers would be without Badie. He’s one of three SEC running backs with FOUR 200 yard games in a single season the last 15 years — and the other two are Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry.
Also, if this game comes down to special teams, Gator fans will need to watch Harrison Mevis, who rarely misses field goals and is a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award. He’s easily one of the best kickers in the country.
Drinkwitz is sitting at .500 in year two and currently has a top 15 recruiting class in the country. Are you confident that the program is trending the right direction under Drinkwitz?
This season hasn’t gone too well for Missouri, but it’s important to know that they are just in Year Two of the Eli Drinkwitz era. It takes time to build a program, and with the recruiting that he’s been able to do, there’s confidence and optimism that Missouri can get back to that stage of winning SEC East titles again.
Landing local 2022 five-star wide receiver Luther Burden over Georgia and Alabama back in October was the Tigers’ biggest win of the season. The future is certainly bright, and there’s reason to believe Drinkwitz is the right guy right now to lead this program.
What do you expect on Saturday and do you have a prediction?
Florida has more roster talent right now than Missouri. There’s no denying that. However, with everything that has gone wrong for the Gators lately and Dan Mullen under some serious pressure, Mizzou is in a little bit of a better shape right now. It might be a very cold Saturday in Columbia, and those weather conditions don’t exactly favor the Gators. This game definitely has the kind of feel of who wants it more, and I think Missouri does.
Mizzou 34, Florida 27.
Thank you to Sammy and the folks over at Rock M Nation for answering some questions for us. Make sure to check both Sammy and Rock M Nation out on Twitter (@StavaonSTL, @RockMNation) for the Tigers side of Saturday’s game.