1. Will Kelly Bryant return to form?
Missouri coach Barry Odom has given every indication that Kelly Bryant will return to the starting lineup Saturday after the quarterback sat out the Georgia game last weekend to rest his hamstring. If he’s back, what’s a reasonable expectation for the QB? Will the Tigers go back to using him as a runner on option plays and designed keepers? Can Bryant rediscover the deep ball that’s been absent from the offense the last few weeks? The Tigers only crossed midfield twice last week but should have a fighting chance with a functional Bryant against the Gators. Even at 90%, can Bryant give the offense a spark?
2. Home sweet home for Mizzou?
Mizzou’s been on the road longer than the Rolling Stones. At least it seems that way. Saturday’s game will mark the Tigers’ first home kickoff in five weeks. Will the friendly confines help Odom’s team magically flip back to playing competent football, particularly on offense? The Tigers have won seven straight home games and averaged 40.4 points there this season. The last home game resulted in MU’s first sellout in five years, but what kind of crowd will show up for Mizzou’s long-awaited homecoming? Tiger fans loathe the 11 a.m. kickoffs. It’s also the first weekend of deer firearms season, a traditional attendance obstacle in mid-Missouri. And the Tigers have lost three in a row.
3. Can the Tigers learn to catch?
Mizzou needs more from its pass catchers. Throw the tight ends in there, too. Wideouts Kam Scott, Jalen Knox and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam sport the Southeastern Conference’s three highest drop rates, according to advanced metrics site SECStatCat.com. It doesn’t matter who lines up at quarterback if the targets can’t secure the ball. Jonanthan Nance has been a serviceable possession receiver. Johnathon Johnson is a productive slot receiver when healthy, but he’s been out because of an illness and shoulder injury. Barrett Banister has been one of the few consistent receivers lately and might need to see more playing time to jump start a stagnant passing game.
4. Can MU handle the Florida heat?
This figures to be another major test for Mizzou’s offensive line. Under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, Florida leads the SEC in sacks (35) and tackles for loss (75). Even scarier for the Tigers, standout defensive end Jabari Zuniga is expected to return from a nagging ankle injury. After allowing the fewest sacks in the SEC each of the last three years (14 in 2016 and 13 in 2017 and 2018), Mizzou already has yielded 19 this season. The Tigers have no shot to upset the Gators with Kelly Bryant running for his life in the backfield. “They’ve got some good dudes that can get after the quarterback and win one-on-ones,” Odom said. “They've got length, they’ve got speed, they’ve got explosion.”
5. Will Mizzou’s defense test the loaded Gators?
Mobile quarterbacks have given Missouri’s defenders headaches, but the Tigers have fared well against pocket passers. Florida’s Kyle Trask can create yards with his legs but has rushed for positive yardage in just five of his seven starts when sacks are factored into rushing totals. For the season, he’s netted minus-28 yards on 45 attempts. That’s good news for the Tigers, who last week held Georgia’s Jake Fromm to the worst completion percentage of his career. Trask isn’t a running threat but he’s surrounded by a balanced cast of playmakers: six Gators have at least 20 catches and 10 have caught touchdowns. The Tigers have to keep track of No. 84, sophomore Kyle Pitts, the SEC’s most prolific receiver at the tight end position.
Prediction: Florida 28, Missouri 13.