In taking another look at Missouri’s 7-14 loss to Florida, my attention was drawn to a couple of positions on the field for the Tigers. Right tackle Justin Britt was injured making a tackle following James Franklin’s first interception and he did not return. Later, Coach Pinkel said that Britt is “out”, possibly for the remainder of the season.
Max Copeland also went out following that same play, but he later returned to play right guard. With both Britt and Copeland on the sideline, Missouri lined up with Brad McNulty at center, Mitch Morse at right guard, and Anthony Gatti at right tackle. Once Copeland returned, Morse alternated between center and right tackle.
Since it appears that Britt is out going forward, that’s the line-up that we’re likely to see in the coming weeks. It’s good to see that the staff has determined that Gatti is game ready, and that he’s gotten some game experience the last couple of weeks. Keep in mind that the red-shirt sophomore has missed a lot of time due to injury while at Missouri, maybe more than half of the practice time since he’s been here, which obviously has slowed his progress and development.
Of particular note is that prior to Britt’s injury when Morse was doing most of the snapping, there were no real issues with that part of the game. For the game, there were a few errant snaps, but overall the snapping was improved.
Coach Pinkel said afterwards that he thought the Tigers did a “great job of calling plays”. He also said that the Tigers moved the ball against Florida’s “great defense” as well as Missouri has moved the football all season.
The truth is that with James Franklin at QB, and with him playing at considerably less than 100%, the Missouri offense did move the football on the road against one of the best defenses in the country. Missouri’s 335 yards of total offense is 54 yards more than Florida has surrendered per game this season. And, the Tigers did that with an offensive line that suffered yet another injury and was forced to shuffle people around at three of the five spots during the game. Oh, and did I mention that the QB was playing at considerably less than 100%.
That last point is important because it had such a direct bearing on the game. As Coach Pinkel said following the game, Franklin’s presence in the line-up and his play gave the Tigers a chance to win the game. But in the end, it was Franklin’s failure to complete passes, and his four interceptions, that ultimately prevented Missouri from winning on the road against #7 Florida.
I took a close look at what was going on with Franklin in this game. What was causing the junior QB to complete just 47% of his pass attempts, well below his usual performance, and to throw the four costly interceptions?
On the game, Franklin was 24-54-4 for 236 yards. The Missouri receivers cut down on their dropped passes, but I still counted 2 drops. Franklin was accurate on the shorter throws, and his accuracy on the throws that he made on the run was uncanny. In fact, he made some terrific throws on the run, throws that, like the shorter screens and flairs that he threw well, he made without planting his left leg. He made most of those accurate throws just with his arm, or without relying on his ability to plant hard and torque over his left knee. Of the throws that I counted where Franklin tried to plant against his left leg, he completed 6, and had 9 overthrows. He had 1 pass that he underthrew, which appeared to me that he was trying to overcompensate for the overthrows, seemingly searching for a release point that would work for him without having to transfer his full weight onto his left leg.
That’s 10 incompleted passes the majority of which a healthy James Franklin probably completes. That would put Franklin’s completion percentage closer to where it’s been throughout his Missouri career, and it certainly would have garnered a win in the Swamp.
Coach Pinkel talked about the lack of practice time that Franklin has gotten over the past two months. That’s certainly a consideration, but watching Franklin make a number of great throws on the run at Florida convinces me that the issue with the overthrows has more to do with the health of his knee. A right-handed thrower gets his power from his right leg, but his accuracy is completely dependent on his ability to firmly plant the left leg and torque his weight over that leg.
The Missouri defense played brilliantly, except for two plays, both of which resulted in Florida TDs.
Senior MLB Will Ebner and junior corner E.J. Gaines echoed each other sentiments by saying that ultimately the Tigers’ defense wasn’t good enough.
Florida scored on a 36-yard speed sweep and a 45-yard screen pass.
Sheldon Richardson said that this is Missouri’s best defense. I agree with the junior DT, if he’s limiting that statement to include just the Gary Pinkel era. And, I think Richardson’s play is a big reason why this is Coach Pinkel’s best defense.
Missouri received outstanding performances from several defensive players in the loss at Florida. Sophomore DE Kony Ealy really stood out, as did starting corners Gaines and senior Kip Edwards. Of course, junior LB Andrew Wilson laid the wood to a few Gators. Overall, with just a few exceptions, the entire defense did a very good job of tackling. The Missouri defense was physical, very physical. And they tackled well, for the most part, very well.
Missouri outgained the Gators 335-276 in yardage, converted 6 of 16 third downs to just 2 of 13 for Florida, and ran 30 more plays than the Gators. Missouri won the time of possession 34-26.
The Tigers played well, probably their best game of the season. Still, it wasn’t good enough to get the win, primarily because of Franklin’s inability to complete passes, and his four interceptions. Those are passes that Franklin has usually completed when he’s been healthy, which makes this loss very, very frustrating for everyone in the Black & Gold.