University of Florida

The Florida Gators will have their best defensive player back Saturday against Missouri

Florida head coach Dan Mullen, center, stands with his players on the sidelines.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen, center, stands with his players on the sidelines. AP

The Florida football team doesn’t want to run up and down the stands of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

According to coach Dan Mullen, the team does an extra stadium workout if it loses a home game with its lost displayed on the jumbotron in the background.

The No. 13 Gators will look to avoid the extra offseason workout when they begin a three-game home stretch on Saturday at 4 p.m. against a Missouri team that beat them 45-16 last year.

One of the biggest concerns for Florida this week was whether the team would take the field without one of its best defensive players.

Cornerback C.J. Henderson was injured on the first drive against Georgia last week and didn’t return to the game. Mullen told reporters, however, that Henderson suffered a bruised back — no structural damage — and is expected to be ready for Saturday’s conference matchup.

The Gators (6-2, 4-2 SEC) will need Henderson on the field if they are to slow down Missouri’s balanced offense.

Although the Tigers have a winless conference record (0-4 SEC) they boast one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC in senior Drew Lock.

Lock sits second in the SEC in passing yards (2,144) only trailing Ole Miss’ Jordan Ta’amu.

He’s completing 60 percent of his passes this year with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. Lock enters Saturday’s game with 87 career passing touchdowns, just one shy of tying Florida’s Tim Tebow and Chris Leak, who both had 88 in their careers.

And he will have a bevy of offensive weapons to throw to and make it tough on Florida’s No. 12 ranked passing defense.

The 6-5, 260-pound tight end Albert Okwuegbunam has emerged as one of Lock’s top targets this season. He’s the team’s second-leading receiver with 420 yards — behind wideout Emanuel Hall, who leads the SEC in receiving — and has hauled in a team-high five touchdowns.

The Tigers have four different receivers who have amassed 360 yards this season, and each of those players have at least three touchdown catches on the year.

But Missouri also has a running-back team in sophomore Larry Rountree III, junior Damarea Crockett and true freshman Tyler Badie who have each given the team productive minutes.

“They are the most explosive offense we’ve seen to date,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “It’s a team that beat us up pretty good last year. You look at their games, they’ve scored a lot of points. We understand that we’re gonna have to play well and you know it’s really about being a physical team tight end.”

While Mizzou’s high-scoring offense will be a tough challenge for Grantham’s defense, Florida’s offense, which averages 32.3 points and 391.6 yards per game could potentially take advantage of a Tigers defense that allows 414.8 yards per contest.

“I think receivers, we can create some one-on-one matchups, with Tre [Grimes] and Freddie [Swain] and Josh [Hammond],” receiver Van Jefferson said. “I feel like the slot is going to have a big day on Saturday. I feel like we can take advantage of that. We just have to go out and execute, that’s pretty much it.”

The Tigers are stout against the run, however. Missouri’s run defense ranks 28th in the nation. And a Gators offensive line that has struggled to remain consistent in run blocking will need to do everything right to make room for running backs Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett.

“It is very important to establish the run game,” offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor said. “We just got to come out and play football and do what we do and play sound.”

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