- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 7 Florida plays host to Missouri on Saturday in the Gators’ final SEC game. The Gators (7-2, 6-1 SEC) are still alive in the Eastern Division race, but they have to beat the Tigers and have Georgia lose to either Ole Miss or Auburn.
Here's five storylines for the game:
1. Mental rebound: The Gators played their worst game of the season last weekend against Georgia. How do they respond? Does the loss, which kept the Gators from controlling their own destiny in the division race, linger and cause more problems this week? Are there any lingering conflicts between the defense, which held Georgia to 17 points, and the offense, which turned the ball over six times? It should be clear pretty early if the Gators have rebounded.
2. Make plays in the passing game: Teams have figured out the best way to stop UF’s offense: load the box and concentrate on stopping RB Mike Gillislee and QB Jeff Driskel on the ground, and force the Gators to throw the ball. It has worked because the Gators haven’t been able to throw it for a variety of reasons: The pass protection has struggled (OL and backs and TEs), Driskel has held onto the ball too long and been indecisive, and the receivers are not getting open. The Gators are going to have to make some plays down the field -- 15 or 20 yards, even -- to make the defense quit playing only the run.
3. James Franklin returns: Missouri’s quarterback is probably the healthiest he has been all season. He’s been bothered by shoulder and knee injuries, but Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Franklin will start on Saturday. He is a dual-threat QB but he has only rushed for 75 yards on 51 carries this season because of his injuries. UF has had trouble with mobile QBs before, but the Gators have done a good job against Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers.
4. Hold onto the ball: The Gators had just four turnovers entering the Georgia game but turned it over six times against the Bulldogs. Was that an aberration or had the Gators just been lucky for most of the season? Probably more of the first, but you can bet ball security has been a major emphasis in practice this week because Missouri leads the nation in forced fumbles. Driskel in particular was too careless with the ball. He’s got to hold onto the ball better when he’s in the pocket and get rid of the ball quicker before the rush gets in his face.
5. Watch out for Sheldon Richardson: The Missouri defensive tackle leads the Tigers in tackles (57) and sacks (4.0), which is pretty impressive. For an interior lineman to lead both categories shows how special a player he is. He’s able to rush the passer, hold gaps, and chase down ball carriers. UF’s offensive line, especially C Jonotthan Harrison and Gs James Wilson and Jon Halapio, are going to have to neutralize Richardson.