Gators' tough slate includes chasing Missouri for SEC East
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 1:34 a.m.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Back in the summer when the prognosticators were picking Florida to finish third in the SEC East and predicting three or four losses for the Gators, they all cited UF's schedule.
No. 22 Florida (4-2) at No. 14 Missouri (6-0), 12:21 p.m.
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Too tough, they said.
Well, they should see it now.
It's gotten a whole lot tougher than it looked back in July. And it looked plenty tough then.
Halfway into the season, half the teams on UF's schedule (six) are ranked in the top 15 in the nation, with four of those teams still upcoming on the schedule.
Florida State has climbed all the way to No. 5. LSU is at No. 6. Miami and South Carolina are 10 and 11, respectively. Georgia is hanging in there at No. 15.
And then there's Missouri — 6-0, undefeated in SEC play, leading the Eastern Division and ranked 14th in the nation.
Few saw this coming. And, certainly, no one was mentioning Missouri in the same breath with LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State when talking about how difficult Florida's schedule was back in June and July.
But Missouri is here now, a major player in the division, a big part of UF's tough schedule.
The Gators actually say they're not all that surprised by the Tigers' emergence this season after going 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the league in their debut season in the SEC a year ago.
“I wouldn't say surprised at how good they are,” quarterback Tyler Murphy said. “They were a pretty good team last year and they were good the year before.
“They're undefeated, they beat a good Georgia team the week before and they beat a really good Vanderbilt team (two weeks ago). They're a lot better than they were last year, but that's not a surprise to us.
“We know that day in and day out, every week, we're going to have to come with our best.”
Missouri's remarkable turnaround in its second season in the SEC doesn't surprise coach Will Muschamp, either.
He coached against Gary Pinkel and the Tigers when he was the defensive coordinator at Texas and he knows about the talent level and coaching at Missouri. Plus, in The Swamp a year ago, the Gators had a hard time putting away the Tigers, not securing a 14-7 victory until safety Josh Evans intercepted a James Franklin pass in the end zone with five seconds left in the game.
“Not at all,” Muschamp said when asked if he was surprised by Missouri's emergence this season. “I've got respect for Gary Pinkel and the job he has done at Missouri. He's an outstanding football coach. He's a ball guy.
“They're a difficult team to get ready for. From the standpoint, offensively, the different issues they give you. The spreading the field, creating the space plays. You've got to make plays in space. You've got to tackle in space. They've done a good job of recruiting those type of guys.”
Muschamp seems equally impressed with the Missouri defense, which is coming off a strong performance in the Tigers' 41-26 victory at Georgia last Saturday. Missouri forced four turnovers in that game, including an Aaron Murray fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
The Tigers have forced a turnover in 36 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the FBS.
“Dave Steckel, their defensive coordinator, is a guy I have a lot of respect for as well,” Muschamp said. “They're hard-nosed, they're tough on defense. They've recruited well, and they have developed their players well. There was a run there for Missouri where they had a first-round draft pick in about five straight drafts.
“Obviously, they do a good job of evaluating, and they do a good job of developing their players. It doesn't shock me at all. It catches your attention when you turn on the tape on both sides of the ball.”
Perhaps the most impressive Tiger on tape will not be playing in today's critical SEC game. Franklin, who was off to a great start in his senior season, separated his shoulder in the second half against Georgia and is expected to miss several weeks.
Starting in his place is redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, a high school phenom who broke the national records for career passing yardage, touchdown passes and total yardage at Kenton High in Kenton, Ohio.
Florida has little tape on Mauk to study, other than from the second half of the Georgia game and brief mop-up appearances in the Tigers' other five games. He's thrown only six passes, completing five for 41 yards.
But there is plenty of tape to break down Missouri's spread offense, and that's what the Gators have prepared for this week — the offense, not Mauk.
“They're going to run their offense,” UF linebacker Michael Taylor said. “I'm pretty sure they recruit a quarterback that's going to fit their offense, just like we recruit a quarterback that's going to fit our offense. So, I'm pretty sure he's going to have the same characteristics, same qualities as Franklin has.
“It will be exciting to see what he has. We don't have as much film on him as we do with Franklin, but the game plan will be in effect. We'll just have to execute.”