Florida football: Five storylines to watch for the Gators entering Saturday's matchup with the Missouri Tigers

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
Florida Gators cornerback Jaydon Hill (23) tackles the Eastern Washington Eagles player during the second half at Steve Spurrier Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Sunday, October 2, 2022. [Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun]

Would you believe if I told you that Florida football is creeping up on one calendar year since its last Southeastern Conference win?

The Gators (3-2, 0-2 SEC) will look to snap a six-game SEC losing streak on Saturday when they host Missouri in their homecoming game at The Swamp (noon, ESPNU).

Florida's last SEC win was a 42-0 drubbing of Vanderbilt on Oct. 9, 2021. Since then, the Gators have lost six conference games in a row, including a 24-23 overtime loss at Missouri on Nov. 20, 2021, in a game decided by a two-point conversion.

"It was hard to see Missouri beat us because, they're just not supposed to, you know," said Florida cornerback Jaydon Hill, who sat out last year's game while recovering from knee surgery. "And I'm looking forward to heading up this weekend and take care of business and dominating like we're supposed to."

Next up for the Gators:Florida Gators' next opponent: Scouting report on SEC foe, the Missouri Tigers

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Florida is 5-5 all-time against Missouri since the school joined the SEC in 2012. The Gators also are seeking their first conference win under first-year head coach Billy Napier, whose two losses this season have come within the SEC East against Kentucky and Tennessee.

"When you lose football games, sometimes it becomes a little bit more real to you, right? It stings a little bit more," Napier said. "We've played losing football at times and ultimately it's cost us games.

"I also think that our process of quality control in a game, evaluating the game, what contributes to winning, I think we've done that a number of times here. We're getting better."

Like Florida, Missouri (2-3, 0-2 SEC) is in search of its first conference win of the season. The Tigers lost 17-14 in overtime at Auburn and took No. 1 Georgia to the wire last weekend at home before falling, 26-22.

Napier and Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz are familiar with one another, as they faced each other in the Sun Belt during the 2019 season when Napier was the head coach at Louisiana and Drinkwitz was the head coach at Appalachian State. In the matchup Drinkwitz's Appalachian State squad topped Napier's Louisiana team 17-7.

"Eliah does a fantastic job on offense," Napier said. "They've got an identity. They've got a set of concepts that they really believe in from a run perspective. They're committed to that. They do a good job with the play-action shots. They have a good perimeter game and drop-back game to go with that.

"Always had success moving the ball, if you really dig into his history. Creative, really good play-caller, a good game planner, for sure."

 Here are five storylines to watch in the Florida-Missouri matchup:

The line of scrimmage

Missouri's defensive line, led by 6-foot-4, 274-pound Isaiah McGuire (10 career sacks), held No. 1 Georgia in check for three quarters before tiring late in the game. McGuire and Trajan Jeffcoat are bookend defensive ends capable of getting to the quarterback from the outside.

It should present a challenge to Florida tackles Richard Gouraige and Austin Barber. Florida has been stellar protecting the quarterback this season, with 3 sacks allowed in five games. The Gators are going to need another strong effort up front to keep Missouri's defensive line from becoming a factor.

"We've been fortunate," Napier said. "Number one, we conceptually are built in a way where we try to eliminate negative plays, obviously sacks being one of those, right? I also think we've got a really good plan there to develop the offensive line. I think we've got a good understanding of protection. A lot of it is conceptual. I also think it's a commitment and a premium put on the offensive line and their development."

Napier said it helps to have an athletic quarterback in Anthony Richardson capable of eluding pressure.

"We always were really good in that stat the last couple years," Napier said. "Certainly we had a really good athlete at quarterback. I think that contributes to that, as well."

Passing game progress with Anthony Richardson

Florida has averaged 422.5 yards passing over its last two games. Richardson looks more comfortable throwing from the pocket and is getting more targets involved. Senior receiver Justin Shorter has 8 catches for 230 yards and 1 TD over his last two games, while tight end Keon Zipperer has 5 catches for 109 yards and 1 TD.

"Week to week it's been pretty good," Shorter said. "You definitely just want to see get better and better each week. We just try to go back to the drawing board and just try to put more work than we did last year."

Short week preparation

Florida will play with six days rest instead of seven with last week's game against Eastern Washington being rescheduled to Sunday due to Hurricane Ian.

Napier altered the practice schedule this week, giving players Monday off, and managed to rotate in 81 different players to keep them fresh. Napier and his staff also spent the Thursday before the Eastern Washington game putting together game preparation for Missouri when the players had off from practice. Florida did not practice in pads on Tuesday.

"How fresh you feel is based on how you take care of your body," Shorter said. "If you put in the extra time in the training room, the cold tub and stuff, you know you're going to feel good. If you don't, you're not. It's really how we all take care of our body."

Taking care of the football

After playing turnover-free in Florida's season-opener against Utah, Richardson has turned the ball over at least once in each of his last four games. Overall, Richardson has thrown six interceptions and lost one fumble on the season.

Taking care of the football will be important for Richardson and the rest of the Gators to keep Missouri from gaining any positive momentum. Florida has posted an even turnover margin on the season, with 8 turnovers forced and 8 lost.

Linebacker Ty'Ron Hopper's return

Hopper transferred from Florida to Missouri this past offseason after recording 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble in four starts for the Gators last season.

This season, Hopper has been one of the standouts on Missouri's defense with 32 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 1 forced fumble.

"We certainly would have loved to have him on our team," Napier said. "He's a good player. Just a unique window of time there. Certainly, with his family, I think a family member that also went to Missouri. A little bit of a deal there. Nothing but respect. He's playing great. Certainly, a good competitor, one that I think has a good future in front of him."