Who: Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) vs. No. 23 Mississippi State (3-1, 0-1)
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, Starkville, Miss.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Vegas line: Bulldogs by 7
Series record: Florida leads 33-19-2. The teams used to play annually from 1954 to 1993 but have only played six times since then.
Last 10 years: The Gators and Bulldogs played in Starkville in 2009 with Florida winning despite two pick-sixes from Tim Tebow and the following year MSU was the winner.
Last time they met: Dan Mullen returned to The Swamp, but it wasn’t offense that won the night. The Bulldogs scored 10 points in the first quarter and held on for a 10-7 win in Urban Meyer’s final season at UF.
Fun fact: The first game between the two teams was played in Jacksonville and ended in a 13-13 tie in 1923. Of the 54 games between the two teams, 15 have been played at neutral sites.
Born to run
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks has gone from reluctant runner to willing runner to now, well, runner. On read-option plays against Tennessee, he kept the ball several times and took off running, one time trying to leap over a defender after an 11-yard gain. He’ll never be confused with Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, who is only 176 yards shy of overtaking Tim Tebow as the all-time leading rushing quarterback in SEC history. But Franks seems to be enjoying his new role as a runner. “I was just having fun (against Tennessee). I haven’t run the ball that much ever in my life. I find it kind of fun. If I see a hole I’m going to try to hit it and go get a touchdown,” he said. “The guys do a great job blocking for me and I try to hit the hole and go. I don’t know a lot about running and cutting and that kind of stuff, but I try to do my best at it.”
Statement game opportunity
After the early loss to Kentucky in which Florida was dominated on both lines of scrimmage, some were wondering if the Gators would win an SEC game this season. Now, with Kentucky coming off a win over Mississippi State and the Gators winning big in Knoxville, UF could possibly crack the top 25 next week if the Gators can pull the upset on the road against the No. 23 Bulldogs. “We’re not looking to make a statement,” senior rush end Cece Jefferson said. “We’re just trying to win this game and get this thing back on track. I think for the outside world, if we do win this game, they’ll definitely give us some of the respect we deserve and look at us differently.”
Scoring streak on the line?
For the Gators to get the upset, they’re going to have to score some points, maybe 24 or more. But they will be facing the best defense they’ve seen this season, one that is dominant up front with end Montez Sweat, tackle Jeffery Simmons and outside linebacker Leo Lewis. If the Gators struggle early and are sacked and turn the ball over, it could be a long, fruitless (and maybe even pointless) night for Franks and the offense. It’s going to be tough even if the Gators manage the offense and take care of the ball. UF has scored in 376 consecutive games, which is an NCAA record. That impressive streak of not getting shut out could be in jeopardy tonight if the MSU defense plays up to its potential and the UF offense takes a big step back.
Today’s game questions
• What kind of reception will Dan Mullen receive in his return to Davis Wade Stadium? Hostile? Friendly? Somewhere in between?
• How much will the Florida offensive line struggle against one of the best defensive lines in the country?
• Will the Gators get hurt by quarterback Nick Fitzgerald’s ability to make plays with his legs?
• Can the Gators produce some critical turnovers again after forcing six against Tennessee?
• Will the Gators hit any big plays in the passing game?
Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers
Mississippi State 24, Florida 13
(Season record: 2-2)
Florida’s defensive front vs. MSU dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald:
The last time the Gators faced a dual-threat quarterback, they got burned by Kentucky’s Terry Wilson, who scrambled out of the pocket time after time and ended up rushing for 105 yards. Wilson may be more elusive than Fitzgerald, but Fitzgerald is a more natural runner with deceptive speed and the size and strength to run through defenders. UF’s No. 1 goal will be to try and contain him in the pocket and prevent him getting to the edge like Wilson did. The Gators have been solid against the run since the Kentucky game and having middle linebacker David Reese back is certainly a plus. But, again, this is the first dangerous dual-threat quarterback the Gators have faced since the loss to Kentucky, so there’s some apprehension going into the game.
Florida leads the nation with 14 takeaways, including 10 fumbles recovered. The Gators will try to disrupt a Mississippi State offense that was very good until last week’s struggles in a loss to Kentucky.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
It’s an important conference game for Florida and Mississippi State as they jockey for position in the SEC standings — but this one is also about pride. Coach Dan Mullen returns to Starkville for the first time since leaving Mississippi State’s program for Florida in November. Mullen had nine mostly successful seasons in Starkville — and locals certainly remember the good times — but there are still some hard feelings since he left for another team in the SEC.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Florida: QB Feleipe Franks. The Gators’ quarterback has had a good start to the season with 12 touchdowns passes. Now he’ll try to have similar success while dodging two of the best defensive linemen in the SEC — Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat.
Mississippi St: WR Osirus Mitchell. Mississippi State has lacked consistency throwing the ball this season and it’s likely Florida coach Dan Mullen will try to make the Bulldogs beat them downfield. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Mitchell is one of Mississippi State’s biggest targets and he caught six passes for 65 yards last week against Kentucky.
FACTS & FIGURES
Mississippi State has a 7-4 record against Florida in games played in Starkville. … Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald is one of only three players in SEC history with 35 career touchdowns passing and running. The other two — former Florida QB Tim Tebow and former Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott — were also on teams that Mullen coached. … Mississippi State is averaging 247.8 yards rushing, which ranks third in the SEC and 18th nationally. … Florida has already scored 43 points off of turnovers this season after scoring just 44 points off turnovers during the entire 2017 season. … Florida’s 47-21 win over Tennessee last weekend was the first time the Gators had scored more than 35 points in an SEC road game since 2011.
Staff writer Pat Dooley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.