The Missouri Tigers don’t know what to expect from Kelly Bryant, who should return to the starting lineup this weekend after recovering from an injury, but they at least have their starting quarterback on the field, which creates a fresh sense of possibility for a team in dire need of a pick-me-up win.
By Matt Zemek
Given all the grumbling from the Missouri fan base, Barry Odom needs a win which will change the conversation surrounding the Mizzou program. Taking down Florida would fit the bill. Let’s see what the Tigers can do on their home field against an opponent intent on reaching a New Year’s Six bowl game.
1 – Make the task hard for Trask
Kyle Trask has been better than many people in and around the Florida program expected. Yet, even the most diehard Gator fans would not say that Trask is Dan Mullen’s ideal quarterback or a quarterback who can lead Florida to the College Football Playoff, let alone the national championship game. Florida and Mullen haven’t yet found their own Danny Wuerffel or Dak Prescott. Trask started the year as a backup quarterback for a reason. That reality was magnified in the Gators’ 24-17 loss to Georgia. Missouri, therefore, has to make life difficult for Trask. Other than the obvious point about generating a pass rush, Missouri needs to do what any competent defense must do against Trask: Force him to make downfield throws. This was how NFL defenses approached Peyton Manning at the very end of his career, when his arm strength deteriorated. Taking away the short passes Trask depends on for rhythm and moving the sticks is an essential need for Florida’s opposing defenses. If the Tigers can achieve that, Trask will have to take shots downfield, which invites the possibility that he will force a ball into a tight window and commit a crucial turnover. Missouri needs to successfully squeeze Trask in this manner on Saturday.
2 – Home-run plays
We don’t know what version of Kelly Bryant we will see on Saturday. A reasonable overview of Bryant’s situation, coming back from injury, is that we shouldn’t expect letter-perfect precision or durable consistency. Maybe Bryant will surprise us and be on target for 60 whole minutes, but that seems like a lot to expect. Last weekend, Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama (obviously forced into a shootout against LSU and Joe Burrow, which are very different from Florida and Kyle Trask) came back from injury. There were some rough edges, but Tua made big plays down the field. He took risks and committed turnovers, but he made a lot of special plays as well. That is a scenario Missouri should be willing to live with: plenty of incompletions, a few large mistakes, but so many huge plays that the mistakes are counterbalanced with a potent and productive offense.
If Bryant throws four touchdown passes and throws two interceptions, Missouri should live with that. Mistakes will probably occur; just make an even larger number of point-scoring plays.
3 – Special teams
Bryant and a defense without Cale Garrett will both need help. Missouri probably isn’t good enough to beat Florida in a game which involves a relatively equal amount of mistakes by both teams. The Tigers need to tip the scales on special teams in a profound way if they want to have a realistic chance of winning.