COLUMBIA — Missouri is in the midst of a three-game losing streak, and the 11th-ranked Florida Gators come to town at 11 a.m. Saturday for a game on national television.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant, who missed the end of the Kentucky game and the entirety of the Georgia game with a hamstring injury, is expected to start. Wide receiver Johnathon Johnson, who leads the team in receptions, was listed as day-to-day Tuesday with a strained shoulder after illness kept him sidelined last week.
But while the Tigers' offense tries to find its footing to end the skid, the defense turned in one of its best performances of the season against the No. 6 team in the nation.
"The positives from it, you made them kick five field goals, and they made four of 'em," defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said Tuesday. "Still, that's a lot of times to get down there (without scoring a touchdown). They have not had a lot of third downs, we forced them into 18 of 'em, they got eight of 'em, they were pretty efficient on third down, we've got to be better there.
"And then obviously Jake Fromm is as good a quarterback (as there is) in college ball right now, and I think we held him to a 44 percent completion rate, 44 or 45 percent, and we made them make tough catches. That first touchdown, that was on me, I called a zone coverage trying to be cautious, and that was my fault. And then the other touchdown we gave up was a diving catch with one foot inbounds. Shoot, hats off to the guy, he made a great play."
Fromm completed 13-of-29 passes (44.8 percent), the lowest completion percentage in his career at Georgia. The Bulldogs were 1-3 when Fromm completed 50 percent or less of his passes before Saturday's game. He also threw for 173 yards, the fourth-lowest yardage total of the season behind Kentucky (Georgia attempted just 12 passes in the driving rain), Vanderbilt and Murray State. Fromm's 6.0 yards per attempt was the sixth-worst mark of his career.
Freshman wide receiver George Pickens had five catches for both touchdowns and 67 yards, and Lawrence Cager, who left the game with an injury in the second half, caught six passes for 93 yards.
Defensively, the loss of Cale Garrett had an impact, and the Tigers are no longer scoring defensive touchdowns like they did against West Virginia, SEMO, South Carolina and Troy, but not much else has changed. Missouri is playing defense at a level that should win games, and that won the team games earlier in the season. The offense isn't.
"I was happy with they way they competed, obviously wasn't enough to win the game, but there were definitely positives to take away from it," Walters said. "We obviously have to do better. We can't give up points on the board if you don't have them."
The Bulldogs carried the ball for 166 total yards and 4.37 yards per carry, both the team's third-worst marks of the season on the ground, and were held without a rushing touchdown for the second time this season.
In six games against Power Five opponents — which does not count the 37 points the Tigers gave up to Wyoming, but also the shutout against Southeast Missouri Sate and the 10 points scored by Troy — Missouri's defense has allowed 7, 14, 27, 21, 29 and 27 points, an average of 20.8 points per game.
"They fought really, really hard, and I think they tried to keep us in it as long as they could," center Trystan Colon-Castillo said Tuesday. "We didn't come through, which obviously sucks. It sucks, and it's a hard pill to swallow.
"We've scored 21 points in the last three games. Obviously, that's not something that we all enjoy, especially, you know, we've been an offense that early on this year, or not even early on, over the past couple years has put points up."
The challenge presented by Florida's offense starts with quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts. Pitts is as dynamic a pass-catcher as there is in the SEC, and is the Gators' leading receiver as a tight end with 42 catches for 528 yards and five scores.
Trask and Fromm are near polar opposites in their approach to risk. The two have fairly similar numbers — Trask is 160-of-239 for 2,011 yards, 19 touchdowns and six interceptions, while Fromm is 156-of-233 for 1,858 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions — though Trask has put up those numbers in one less game. Trask is also more of a threat to tuck the ball and run.
"He looks like, even in the quarterback run game, he's gaining confidence all the time," Missouri coach Barry Odom said of Trask. "He presents some challenges, and he's a big dude, he's hard to bring down when you get to him, if you can get to him, and he just keeps battling."
Getting to the quarterback has been a problem lately for the Tigers. Missouri has had two sacks across its past four games, one each against Vanderbilt and Georgia, and did not register a quarterback hurry against the Bulldogs or Kentucky.
Otherwise, the defense has been consistent. It's up to the Tigers' offense to recover.