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5 random thoughts on Florida-Missouri, a quietly weird series

Since 2016, the series has given us a brawl, a thumb-wrestling challenge and multiple lightsaber-wielding coaches.
The Florida Gators' series with Missouri has been weird lately, including a brawl in 2020.
The Florida Gators' series with Missouri has been weird lately, including a brawl in 2020. [ BRAD MCCLENNY | AP ]
Published Oct. 6

GAINESVILLE — Expect something weird to happen Saturday when the Florida Gators host Missouri. It’s the nature of the series.

Since 2016, we’ve seen a game with multiple pick-sixes (2016) and a halftime brawl (2020). We’ve seen one coach challenge anyone to a thumb-wrestling contest (Dan Mullen, 2018) and two coaches whip out light sabers during celebratory postgame news conferences (Mullen in 2020 and the Tigers’ Eliah Drinkwitz last year).

Related: Eliah Drinkwitz: No beef with former Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen

Here are five other random thoughts on the matchup:

1. This is bigger than you think for the Gators

The Florida Gators have lost six consecutive SEC games, including last year's contest at Mizzou.
The Florida Gators have lost six consecutive SEC games, including last year's contest at Mizzou. [ L.G. PATTERSON | AP (2021) ]

Florida enters with a six-game SEC losing streak (including a defeat at Mizzou last year that cost Mullen his job). A defeat would make this the second-longest drought in program history; UF lost 11 league games in a row from 1945-47.

“Yeah, we’ve got to get on it,” defensive back Jaydon Hill said.

Beating the Tigers is also pivotal for Florida’s bowl chances. A defeat wouldn’t end the Gators’ bowl hopes, but getting to six wins would require them to upset No. 3 Georgia, No. 25 LSU or Florida State on the road. That’s possible, but the easiest path to the postseason — and the crucial extra workouts — involves a home win over Mizzou.

2. Anthony Richardson is heating up

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson has back-to-back games with at least 200 passing yards for the Gators.
Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson has back-to-back games with at least 200 passing yards for the Gators. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

The first-year starting quarterback is coming off the first two 200-yard games of his career. Granted, the second opponent was Eastern Washington, but that game matters for a different reason.

Backup quarterback Jalen Kitna was 8-of-12 for 152 yards and a touchdown in his debut. Coach Billy Napier said Kitna has improved in practice, too. Perhaps more confidence in Richardson’s backup will allow Florida to continue opening up Richardson’s running opportunities, even if it risks injury.

3. Napier and Drinkwitz have a brief but notable history

Eliah Drinkwitz beat Billy Napier twice in their Sun Belt days, including in the 2019 conference championship.
Eliah Drinkwitz beat Billy Napier twice in their Sun Belt days, including in the 2019 conference championship. [ BRIAN BLANCO | AP (2019) ]

The two faced each other twice in the Sun Belt.

“That seems like a long time ago,” Napier said Wednesday.

Related: Florida’s Billy Napier isn’t the first Sun Belt coach to jump to a bigger job.

Really, it was only in 2019. Drinkwitz’s Appalachian State team won both times, in different ways. The first was a 17-7 defensive win at Louisiana. The second was a 45-38 shootout for the Sun Belt title. Napier’s quarterback, Levi Lewis, passed for a record 354 yards with four touchdowns to help the Ragin’ Cajuns try to rally from an early 21-0 deficit.

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4. The short week shouldn’t affect Florida much

The Florida Gators have a short week after crushing Eastern Washington on Sunday.
The Florida Gators have a short week after crushing Eastern Washington on Sunday. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

The Gators are at a disadvantage, because Hurricane Ian moved the Eastern Washington game back a day to Sunday. The practical impact should be limited.

Napier said much of the roster only appeared in 20-30 plays, so recovery shouldn’t be an issue.

As for game preparation, Napier is used to that. He went 4-0 on short weeks at Louisiana, winning those games by a combined score of 142-59.

5. Florida is highlighting its GatorMade program this week.

The program, established under Napier and his staff, is an initiative designed to teach and empower players on and off the field. Examples include a business and networking trip to Atlanta over spring break, a 10-day service abroad trip to Greece in June and visits from outside speakers like Inky Johnson.

Napier wore a GatorMade hoodie to his news conference this week, and players will wear GatorMade decals on their helmets Saturday.

Related: The Florida Gators built Billy Napier’s army. What will it actually do?

Though the program is geared to help players after football, Napier thinks it affects their on-field performance, too. So does program director Savannah Bailey.

“If you’re a more mature person, you’re going to make some better decisions,” Bailey said. “You’re better in high-pressure situations. And I think just general leadership and empowerment. What does it look like to be comfortable in who you are? That identity, and then that intellect.”

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