Traveling to the state of Florida for the first time since 1988, the Missouri Tigers invade Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando to take on the UCF Knights in a non-conference tilt.
Missouri is hoping to rebound from a 31-10 setback at sixth-ranked South Carolina. The Tigers’ other loss came at home against Georgia on Sept. 8, while their victories have come against SE Louisiana and Arizona State. Following this weekend’s tilt, they’ll return home for the next three games.
Coming off an all-important bye week, UCF is set to close out its non- conference schedule this weekend. The Knights are hoping to start a season 3-1 for the first time since their Conference USA championship campaign in 2007. They are on the second leg of a four-game homestand, their longest since 1999.
These teams have never previously faced each other. The Knights are just 2-13 all-time against SEC teams, although one of those wins came against Georgia in the Liberty Bowl only two seasons ago.
Missouri’s first SEC road game was a tough assignment by any measure, considering the Gamecocks’ speed on defense. Still, head coach Gary Pinkel said he was disappointed by his team’s effort. Missouri managed only seven first downs through three quarters and finished with a season-low 255 total yards. Kendial Lawrence tallied 67 rushing yards on 11 carries but, with the Tigers trailing for much of the game, the running game took a backseat in the second half. James Franklin, who missed the previous game with a shoulder injury, was limited to 92 yards on 11-of-18 passing, and he was sacked three times. Missouri’s only touchdown of the day came with 17 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Tigers may be ranked only 68th in the nation in scoring defense (25.5 ypg), but they are 23rd in total defense (317.5 ypg) and have come up with some big plays in all four games. The team notched four non-offensive TDs in the opener against SE Louisiana, including an interception return and a fumble return. The next week, they held No. 7 Georgia to nine points midway through the third quarter before the Bulldogs took advantage of two turnovers to pull away late. Two weeks ago, the Tigers notched four takeaways and held Arizona State scoreless in two trips inside the red zone during the final five minutes of a tight game. Last week, they fought hard on the road against USC despite tough field position, as all four of the Gamecocks’ TD drives started at midfield or better. However, the defense allowed South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw to complete his final 20 passes and finish 20-of-21.
UCF has already notched nine touchdowns through the air this year. In 12 games in 2011, the team had only 11 total. Blake Borles is completing 66.7 percent of his passes while averaging 222.7 yards per game. However, he has also been intercepted five times in three games. If the Knights have any intentions of winning this contest, Borles needs to avoid turnovers. The team could also use a boost in the running game from senior running back Latavius Murray, who rushed for 108 yards and a TD in the opener at Akron before suffering a shoulder injury. He was considered week-to-week and wound up missing the last two games. Murray is questionable for Saturday’s contest.
On the other side of the ball, UCF currently leads Conference USA in scoring defense (21.7 ppg) and ranks second in total defense (347.3 ypg). Having a week off should also help the defense heal up some wounds and make some adjustments. Against FIU two weekends ago, the Knights allowed just 26 yards in the first half and only one completion by quarterback Jake Medlock. Perhaps feeling overconfident coming out of the locker room with a 23-0 halftime lead to start the third quarter, UCF allowed Medlock to go 4-of-4 on the opening drive of the second half, resulting in a quick touchdown. FIU would tack on a few more scores to make it a 30-20 game in the fourth quarter, but the score would get no closer the rest of the way.