After facing its toughest challenge of the season, No. 10 Florida returns to playing football Saturday night.
The Gators, sidelined since Oct. 10 due to a COVID-19 outbreak following a loss at Texas AM, will host Southeastern Conference foe Missouri in Gainesville, Fla.
"It's been two weeks since we've practiced. It'll be three weeks between games. That's not kind of a normal deal," Gators coach Dan Mullen said Monday. "Usually when you have that break, you're playing a bowl game, and you have a very different set schedule."
Mullen, who suffered mild COVID symptoms, said he and the Gators (2-1, 2-1 SEC) were treating this week as one coming off a bye. A big difference, however, is that he won't be sure which players will be available until gameday morning. ESPN has reported that at least 26 Florida players tested positive.
"The league says if you have 53 (players) you got to play," Mullen said. "I'm sure we'll have 53 guys be able to play."
Redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Trask (74 of 103, 996 yards, one interception) has thrown for 14 touchdowns and averages 332 yards through three games, sixth best in the country. Junior tight end Kyle Pitts (17 catches, 274 yards, seven TDs) creates a difficult matchup for defenses.
"They split him out. They use him like in the NFL," first-year Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz said Tuesday. "They line him up, single receiver to the weak side and make you isolate him with no underneath coverage."
Pitts' seven touchdowns are third most in the country, leading all tight ends in major college football.
Defensively, the Gators have allowed 33.3 points a game after beating Mississippi (51-35) and South Carolina (38-24), and losing at Texas AM (41-38).
Mullen said he was seeking "consistency of play" from a unit surrendering 495 yards per game.
"We're gonna keep looking at different things," Mullen said. "Obviously, (the break) gave time to research it, spend time on it, find ways to make sure our best 11 guys are out there on the field."
The Tigers (2-2, 2-2), who originally had been scheduled to visit The Swamp last week before the outbreak, are coming off a 20-10 home victory against Kentucky. Florida will be Missouri's fourth ranked opponent in five games.
Through opening losses to Alabama (38-19) and Tennessee (35-12), and victories against LSU (45-41) and Kentucky, Missouri has surrendered 365 yards per game overall, 243 of it through the air. Junior linebacker Nick Bolton leads the team with 43 tackles, including 32 solo.
Senior Larry Rountree III has rushed for 396 yards (4.6 average) and three scores. Redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak has completed 70.7 percent of his passes for 893 yards, four TDs, and one INT.
"I think he did an outstanding job on third downs (against Kentucky)," Drinkwitz said of his QB, who was 21-for-30 for 201 yards. "He was incredibly efficient on third downs, finding the right decisions and taking off running when he needed to."
Still, the coach cited three plays on which Bazelak made poor choices.
"The issue is, when you're a quarterback, those three plays could be the difference in the game," Drinkwitz said. "It's not like you can make a 90 on the test and still win the game."
Florida will wear retro uniforms consisting of blue jerseys, white pants, black shoes and blue helmets with the classic orange "F" in a white orange-lined circle. The uniforms are similar to those worn during Steve Spurrier's time as Gators quarterback in the 1960s.
--Field Level Media