University of Missouri

Mizzou’s offense faces another stern test at defensive-minded Florida

In this Sept. 5, 2015 file photo, Florida defensive back Jalen Tabor raises his arms to fans as they cheered during a game.
In this Sept. 5, 2015 file photo, Florida defensive back Jalen Tabor raises his arms to fans as they cheered during a game. The Associated Press

Missouri’s receivers were manhandled at the line of scrimmage two weeks ago during a five-touchdown loss at LSU, and the chore — at least statistically — gets even tougher this week.

The Tigers play Florida, which boasts the Southeastern Conference’s best pass defense, at 3 p.m. Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.

The Gators allow a league-low 139.8 yards passing per game, have a league-best 86.37 opposing quarterback rating and only permit completions on 39 percent of attempts — all stats that rank in the top four of the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Florida is tied with Georgia for the SEC lead with eight interceptions.

“These guys do a great job with the line of scrimmage,” first-year Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “They use their hands extremely well and disrupt you, to say the least. It’s a big test for our guys to do some things better than they did a week ago out on the perimeter.”

Mizzou enters the game with the top passing attack in the SEC at 350.6 yards per game, but Florida isn’t worried.

“I think we’re No. 1, too,” said junior cornerback Jalen Tabor, who leads the Gators with three interceptions.

Florida is a bit leery of the Tigers’ up-tempo style, but also knows that it’s a delicate balance for an offense to play at breakneck speed.

“They get lined up fast, Tabor said. “We’ve got to get lined up fast. They bank on you not having your feet set and just go. As long as we get our feet set, three-and-outs … kill teams like that. You get three-and-outs and our offense sustains a long drive, they could run six plays in a half if we really stop them how we’re supposed to.”

Besides, Tabor — who plays left cornerback with junior Quincy Wilson at right cornerback — welcomes the challenge, especially knowing Mizzou’s proclivity for launching deep passes.

“As a defensive back you like teams that throw the ball,” he said. “It’s high risk, high reward. You can get bombed and torched up or you can make some money. Put up and shut up.”

The Gators aren’t the only ones eager for a challenge.

“LSU’s defense was really good,” Tigers senior wide receiver Chris Black said. “They have a lot of guys that can go and play on Sundays on that defense. I think it was a wake-up call for us. We’ve got to take it more seriously and come into the game more focused. It was a wake-up call, but we will definitely be ready for this game Saturday against Florida.”

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer

Mizzou at No. 18 Florida

WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.

TV: SEC Network

Other story lines

WILSON MAKING MARK: Unsurprisingly, senior linebacker Michael Scherer leads Mizzou with 42 tackles this season, but junior safety Thomas Wilson is nipping at his heels. He’s got 39 tackles, including a team-high 25 solo tackles this season. Wilson was a bright spot against LSU with a career-best 14 tackles, his third double-digit tackle game in 2016.

BYE WEEK BOUNCE?: Missouri is 4-2 coming off an open date since joining the SEC in 2012. However, the Tigers — who lost 31-13 against Mississippi State last season and 34-0 against Georgia in 2013 — have lost two of the last three post-bye week encounters. Mizzou is only 10-11 in the first game after a week off since 2000.

ROAD WARRIORS VS. RANKED FOES: This is Missouri’s first true road game against a ranked team since Sept. 27, 2014, at South Carolina. The Tigers rallied for a 21-20 win against the then-No. 13 Gamecocks that night, the largest fourth-quarter comeback for a win in program history. Mizzou has won three straight road games against ranked teams, including wins at then-No. 7 Georgia and then-No. 24 Mississippi in 2013.

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