Campus Corner

Q&A with Florida beat writer Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel

Missouri doesn’t expect many differences in Florida’s regardless of which quarterback, junior Jeff Driskel or freshman Treon Harris, is in the game.

The Tigers and Gators kickoff at 6 p.m. Saturday at The Swamp on ESPN2.

“Both those guys, they run the same offense,” Pinkel said. “The film that we have, they both run the same offense. One’s more athletic than the other, I think, but they run the same offense.”

That ought to help Missouri’s preparation for the game, which could be a significant stepping stone on the way to bowl eligibility.

“Because they run the same things on film so far from what I’ve seen, I don’t think it will be too difficult to game plan for both of them,” junior linebacker Kentrell Brothers said.

Harris replaced Driskel late in a 10-9 win against Tennessee, but sat out last week amid a legal investigation in which he was cleared.

Having time to game plan for getting Harris on the field might allow Florida to scheme a few things differently, but wholesale changes would be a tall order.

“With him being a starter, would they maybe do some things different than just going into the game like he did the last time and play? Would they actually design more things for him in particular? We don’t know that,” Pinkel said. “That’s something we’ll have to adjust.”

One thing Missouri does know is that it’s enjoyed tremendous success on the road, winning all seven true road games during the last two season.

“I always enjoy playing on the road,” Morse said. “I feel like, as a team, there’s a certain togetherness we have,” senior left tackle Mitch Morse said. “I love playing on the road, especially against great competition. In a fun place like The Swamp, it’ll be fun on Saturday. … I think we play good ball on the road, but it’ll be tested this week against a really good Florida defense.”

For more on the Missouri-Florida matchup, we talked with Edgar Thompson, the Orlando Sentinel’s beat writer for the Gators.

Be sure to follow him on Twitter and read his work ahead of Saturday’s game.

Q: How should Florida to handle the quarterbacks against Missouri?

Thompson: “The Gators plan to go with hot hand between veteran Jeff Driskel and first-year freshman Treon Harris. That is assuming coaches actually have a choice on Saturday night. Once viewed as a game manager during an 11-win 2012 season, Driskel was expected to finally reach his potential lining up in the shotgun in UF’s new up-tempo offense. The redshirt junior instead has regressed into a turnover-machine with eight miscues during the past three games.

“Harris came to the rescue during Driskel’s three-interception afternoon at Tennessee. But within 48 hours of the win, Harris was swept was linked to sexual battery allegations that were withdrawn four days later. The 19-year-old Harris now must rebound from the distraction of making national headlines and handle the hopes of Gator Nation, long fed up with Driskel’s erratic play.

“Harris, who flipped his commitment from Florida State on signing day, has the accuracy, decisiveness and running skills to be a dangerous college quarterback one day. But he does not know the intricacies of Gators’ offense like Driskel and now could be the key to UF coach Will Muschamp saving his job.

“At a school that produced three Heisman-winning quarterbacks (Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerrfel, Tim Tebow) and a runner-up (Rex Grossman), UF’s quarterback play has been abysmal for some time. The Gators ranked last in the SEC in passing 2012, last in scoring offense in 2013 and currently have more touchdowns than only Vanderbilt. A two-quarterback rotation may not work, but at this point it offers a glimmer of hope.”

Q: How much of a concern is Missouri’s pass rush?

Thompson: “SEC defenses are pretty much a weekly challenge. But the Gators have not faced a pass rush like the one Missouri will unleash behind ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Just ask Gators’ offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, ‘They’re different than some of the guys we’ve seen, not that teams aren’t good at rushing the passer. But Shane Ray and 33 (Golden) those guys are really good, fast-twitch. And they got a couple of good young cats (Harold Brantley, Charles Harris) that are going to be good. They just seem to keep restocking.’

“The Gators hope to counter with their best offensive line during Will Muschamp’s four seasons. Under the guidance of first-year O-line coach Mike Summers, a 34-year coaching veteran, the Gators have allowed five sacks in five games. The past two seasons, UF yielded 66 sacks, including six last season to the Tigers, who finished with 11 tackles for loss during a 36-17 win. If the Gators’ offense is to improve on its paltry 16-point-per-game scoring average in SEC play, it will begin up front with containing Mizzou’s pass rush.”

Q: Is the Gators’ defense licking its chops given the Tigers’ recent offensive struggles? Or is there a sense that Maty Mauk and Missouri remain dangerous?

Thompson: “Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin marveled as he recalled a play last week against Georgia when Mauk threw a 70-yard dart while rolling left. The receiver dropped the pass during the 34-0 loss, but Durkin’s point was the Gators will not take Mauk and the Tigers’ passing game lightly.

“How could the Gators? UF has blown more coverages in four SEC games than coach Will Muschamp’s defenses usually do during an entire season. Last week against LSU, the Tigers — one of the SEC worst passing teams — completed a 41-yard throw on third-and-25 to set up a go-ahead touchdown during the wild final five minutes of the Gators’ 30-27 loss.

“It was the only pass play of 20 yards or longer allowed last week, but UF allowed 12 passes of 20 yards or longer during its previous three SEC games (Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee). Mizzou’s Bud Sasser has nine himself in 2014. And, as Durkin noted, Mauk is the most-talented quarterback the Gators have as faced.

“He proved it a season ago when the Tigers piled up 500 yards of offense during a 36-17 win. After going nine-of-21 passing for 97 yards and four interceptions against Georgia, Mauk has something to prove. The way things are going for Muschamp’s hard-luck Gators he will bounce back with a vengeance on Saturday night in the Swamp.”

Q: Statistically, Florida and Missouri seem to be fairly even, so what will separate them on Saturday and pave the way to victory?

Thompson: “Gary Pinkel and Will Muschamp cannot be happy to see their offenses ranked near the bottom of the SEC — UF at No. 11 and Mizzou at No. 12 in both scoring and yards in the 14-team league. But someone has to score more points on Saturday. The key for the Gators will be limiting turnovers — UF has three in each of the past three games — and getting tailback Matt Jones going.

“The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Jones had 100-yard games in wins against Kentucky and Tennessee, wearing down both defenses late in the game. But with Jones nursing an ankle injury and sitting out the second half against LSU, the Gators were forced to rely solely on Driskel to generate all their offense.

“On a first-and-goal from the LSU 2, the Tigers held the Gators to a field goal with an assist from a dropped pass in the end zone by UF tight end Tevin Westbrook. The Gators need Jones at full speed not only for short-yardage situations, but to stay away from obvious passing downs and keep the Tigers’ pass rush at bay.

“From Mizzou’s side, the key, as it has been all season, will be Mauk. Mauk spoke this summer of becoming the next Johnny Manziel because of his dual-threat abilities. Mauk now has to shake off the worst game of his career against a Gators’ defense that is not one of Muschamp’s best but good enough to cause problems. Like the Gators, the Tigers need to establish a running game to keep pass rushers Dante Fowler Jr., a preseason first-team All-SEC pick, and 6-foot-7 Alex McCalister from getting the chance to tee off on Mauk.”

Thompson’s prediction: Gators 24, Missouri 20

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @todpalmer.

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