Missouri looks to remain in control of SEC East race

Today against Florida

Missouri running back Marcus Murphy walks off the field with head coach Gary Pinkel after last Saturday’s win against Georgia in Athens, Ga.

Missouri running back Marcus Murphy walks off the field with head coach Gary Pinkel after last Saturday’s win against Georgia in Athens, Ga. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri announced itself as a legitimate Southeastern Conference East division contender with a statement victory against Georgia last Saturday.

Now the No. 14 Tigers (6-0, 2-0 SEC) look to remain in the driver’s seat without their starting quarterback against No. 22 Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC) today at Faurot Field (11:21 a.m., KMIZ-TV).

“Florida is a really, really good football team,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. “I thought because they lost a lot of defensive players — they play such great defense — that there’d be a big dropoff. Obviously there’s not at all.

“They lost their starting quarterback a couple weeks ago. Anybody in our business knows what the impact of that is. Their quarterback is playing real well for them now. They have great receivers, a good offensive line. It’ll be a great challenge for us. It’s exciting to be back at the ’Zou, be back home.”

Florida enters with the best defense in the SEC and fourth-best nationally, giving up just 13 points per game. The Gators rank third in the country by allowing only 235.3 yards per game.

Florida is equally as stingy against the run (fourth in the nation at 83.3 yards per game) as it is against the pass (third in the nation at 152 yards per game).

That leads some to believe the Gators possess a defense without any weaknesses.

“Nobody has found any,” Pinkel said. “They’re really, really good. … They’re very well-coached, very disciplined. They have a lot of great players. They’re good up front, they’re athletic. But they have a good system, schemes that they use that cause you a lot of problems.

“They’re really, really impressive. You look at their numbers and they’re pretty staggering.”

That makes the challenge even tougher for Maty Mauk, the redshirt freshman who will start at quarterback in James Franklin’s absence. Yet Mauk is confident the Missouri offense can still live up to its billing. The Tigers rank eighth nationally with 45.7 points per game.

“Our five receivers that are going to be in the game are some of the best in the country,” he said. “I have all the confidence in them and our offensive line is doing great this year. We’re going to go out there and execute and do our thing.

“We have one of the best offenses, so we’re going to come right at them.”

Missouri isn’t the only team in this matchup starting a backup quarterback.

Florida lost Jeff Driskel during a 31-17 win Sept. 21 against Tennessee. Tyler Murphy, who will be making his fourth straight start in Driskel’s stead today, has filled in admirably. The junior has completed 54-of-81 passes for 645 yards and five touchdowns with just one interception.

That’s not the only position where Florida is dealing with injuries.

Running back Matt Jones will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury against Louisiana State last Saturday. Jones was second on the team with 339 rushing yards, behind only Mack Brown’s 340. Jones, however, tallied 12 fewer carries.

Florida is also without starting defensive tackle Dominique Easley and starting right tackle Chaz Green.

While injuries certainly will affect how today’s contest plays out, Pinkel isn’t dwelling on the topic.

“We have great respect for Florida, it’s about us focusing and preparing to play our best,” he said. “That’s how you play your best football, not thinking about all the stuff out there.”

A Missouri win would improve the Tigers to 7-0 for the second time in Pinkel’s 13-year tenure, the other coming in 2010. The head man believes playing back at home will provide the necessary boost.

“It’s been a tough place, obviously last year was difficult,” Pinkel said. “I think the Zou is one of the toughest places to play anywhere. We’re really proud of it. I remember talking to (Georgia head coach) Mark Richt at a convention or somewhere. He told me his thoughts after that game were ‘Mizzou people get it, this is like SEC football.’ ... I expect us to fill it up and I expect our fans to be awesome. What we have to do is give them something to cheer about.”

Now it’s time for Mauk and the rest of the Tigers to make it happen.

“I feel really prepared,” Mauk said. “I feel confident.”

Note: The overall series is tied at one. Florida defeated Missouri 21-14 last season, while the Tigers own a 20-18 win in the 1966 Sugar Bowl.

Audio

Missouri vs. Florida 2013 Podcast (Soundcloud)

Each week, Missouri football beat writer Adam Stillman and News Tribune sports editor Tom Rackers will break down everything to do with Tiger football. This week they discuss Missouri's monumental win against Georgia, James Franklin's injury, Maty Mauk's debut and this Saturday's game against Florida.

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Alternatively, some devices may be able to play or download the podcast here.

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