No. 2 Florida Gators (6-0, 2-2-1 ATS) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-4, 3-3 ATS) Davis Wade Stadium Starkville, M.S. Saturday October 24th, 7:30PM Eastern
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Florida -22/Mississippi State +22
The unthinkable nearly happened last Saturday when the Florida Gators barely escaped an upset by the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas actually had every opportunity to win the game, but the Gators pulled out the hard fought victory to remain undefeated. The less than stellar performance dropped the Gators from the top spot in the AP polls behind Alabama to the number 2 spot. Florida has not been the dynamic scoring machine the nation is accustomed to witnessing over the past few weeks and they have struggled to rack up a bunch of scores in SEC action.
The Gators averaged 45.5 points per game through their first 4 opening contest, but have managed just 18 points on average in their last two SEC outings. Tim Tebow has run the ball well from the quarterback position as always, but the Gators are going to need their highly praised star to start making more plays with his arm and get that explosiveness back. The Gators now try to avoid any upsets again this week when they travel to Starkville to take on their former offensive coordinator and new Coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs Dan Mullen.
Mullen just took over the Bulldogs program this season after helping Florida win two National Championships over the last 3 years. Mullen is in the process of transforming the Bulldogs offense into a similar dangerous SEC offense, but definitely does not have the talent that the Gators possess on his side of the field. However it would be fairly safe to say that Mullen understands how things operate for the Gators and the Bulldogs could give Florida a hard time.
The first objectives that must be accomplished when playing Florida is stop the run. The Gators have tremendous tailbacks and as seen over the past few weeks they are not exactly dominating in the passing game. MSU surprisingly ranks towards the top of the SEC in rush defense allowing just 120 yards per game even though they have allowed 354 total yards on average as well. However, if those guys up front can stop the run it will give them a chance.
The next thing that needs to happen for the Bulldogs is they got to make some plays on offense. Senior Tyson Lee does not throw the ball extremely well with a 58% completion percentage, 6 picks, and only 3 scores this season. However, if the Bulldogs can spread out the defense and get Lee to complete some short passes regularly then they can frustrate the Gators defense.
Florida’s defense is really strong when opposing quarterbacks drop back and allow time for the defensive line to get pressure on the quarterback. However, if Lee can hit some receivers quickly it will keep the linebackers out of the box and allow running back Anthony Dixon to make some plays as well. Dixon has been solid with 696 yards and 7 scores this season. Dixon has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the last 5 games and he will be a big factor in keeping Mississippi State in the ball game.
On offense the Gators just come straight at defenses with their elusive running backs. Jeffrey Demps gets the biggest workload, but tailbacks Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody will get a considerable amount of carries as well. The lucrative detail about all 3 running backs is everyone can break big plays as indicated by all 3 players average over 7 yards per carry. As those guys are not enough to worry about, then you have Tim Tebow that will be full steam ahead from the shotgun position more often than not. Tebow has 378 yards on the year 2nd on the team behind Demps who has 444 on the season. All of these big time players are the reason the Gators rank 6th nationally in terms of rushing offense averaging a stout 259 yards per game.
Even with all the success in the running game, the touchdowns have not come as often over the past few weeks. Tebow is averaging just 172 yards per game through the air and has just 8 touchdowns on the season. Tebow threw for 30 scores in the air last season so it is obvious the numbers are down. The problem may be the lack of playmakers on the outside. Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper do a good job as they have nearly 700 yards combined, but neither has the playmaking ability of Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy who propelled the passing game a season ago. Whether it is the lack of explosion at the receiver position or more focus on the big time running backs, Florida is not posting the lucrative numbers they were from a season ago. However, with that being said is there anyone that is strong enough to take down the mighty Gators?
Jay’s Pick - The answer no, but the Bulldogs will keep it within the points. Take MSU +22.