The Missouri Tigers have won their first six games of the season largely due to an outstanding offense. The Tigers are eighth nationally in scoring offense (45.7 points per game) and 12th nationally in total offense, averaging 515.7 yards per outing.
However, Mizzou faces two big challenges on Saturday against the Florida Gators. First, and most importantly, the Tigers will be without senior quarterback James Franklin, who injured a shoulder in last week’s win over the Georgia Bulldogs. Franklin was averaging more than 300 yards of total offense per game when he went down, and Missouri must find a way to replace that production. Maty Mauk will get the start at quarterback, and he must prove that the offense was effective on its own, not just because of Franklin.
The other challenge for Missouri on Saturday is that they are facing a stingy Florida defense. The Gators are third in the country in total defense (235.3 yards per game) and fourth in the nation in scoring defense (13 points per game). Florida has given up more than 20 points only once this season, in a 21-16 loss to the Miami Hurricanes.
With an inexperienced quarterback behind center, and facing a powerful defense, Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel must find a way for his team to put points on the board. The best way to do that is to run the ball effectively, which Missouri has been able to do this season. The Tigers average 239.3 yards per game, which is 16th in the country.
While Franklin has been at least part of the rushing attack, with 290 yards on the ground this season, Mizzou has done a good job with its three primary running backs. Russell Hansbrough leads the team with 391 yards, following by Henry Josey at 358 and Marcus Murphy with 350. These three players will bear the rushing load on Saturday, and they must be effective if Missouri is to win.
The flip side to that is that Florida allows only 83.3 rushing yards per game, so running the ball against Will Muschamp‘s defense will not be easy. But it’s the best way for Missouri to stay unbeaten in 2013.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.