Florida Football: keys to beating Mississippi State

COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 4: Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks
COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 4: Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks /

In what will be one of Florida’s toughest road tests so far, Dan Mullen must have his Gators ready for battle against his former team, the twenty-third ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs.

After a thrilling, defensively-dominant win over Tennessee on Saturday, the Florida Gators will be pitted against a tough Mississippi State opponent in what should be a classic game of SEC football. Mullen must have his team, especially his offense, locked and loaded against a Bulldog defense that looks eager to get back on track after a 28-7 defeat to seventeenth-ranked Kentucky.

The MSU Bulldogs are no doubt looking for revenge against their former head coach, and will be ready for the Gators when they arrive in Starkville. The Bulldogs already have an established quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald, one of Mullen’s former protégés, and Fitzgerald will no doubt be a point of interest for Todd Grantham’s defense as they prepare for Saturday.

The Gators must be 100% prepared on offense, defense, and special teams if they want to pull off the upset against their ranked opponent. The Gators will enter the game as the underdog, despite having a comparable record and a tougher schedule than MSU thus far.


Florida‘s offense has been somewhat unpredictable so far. After a strong showing in week one against Charleston Southern, the offense under Feleipe Franks seemingly regressed in week two during the Kentucky matchup. However,  the Gators offense bounced back and displayed strong performances against Colorado State and Tennessee. The offense will need to keep that momentum going into Starkville this weekend.

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an Mullen must dial up the right plays to succeed against the Mississippi State pass rush. Mullen made the mistake of being far too conservative on offense against Kentucky, but he has since corrected those mistakes, allowing Franks to use his large frame and big arm, and using offensive weapons such as Kadarious Toney, Dameon Pierce, Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine, and Malik Davis to Florida’s advantage.

As for quarterback play, Feleipe Franks must display more consistency from game to game. At times he has displayed poise and maturity, while at other times he has made poor decisions and shown glimpses of his 2017 self. On the bright side, there is visible improvement on Franks’ part. He’s gotten bigger, more accurate, and he’s making better decisions under pressure. In fact, Franks is currently tied with Alabama sensation Tua Tagovailoa to lead SEC quarterbacks in most touchdown passes thrown so far this year.

Furthermore, Franks must be smart with the ball and find ways to get it to playmakers such as Tyrie Cleveland, and Freddie Swain. In addition the offensive line must step up to give Franks time to throw and all four running backs room to penetrate the Bulldog secondary.

Defense/Special Teams

Like the offense, the defense has done just enough to win games, with the exception of the Kentucky loss. Florida’s defense put up a stellar performance against the Tennessee Volunteers last week in a game where they forced multiple turnovers that came in the form of interceptions, turnovers, and even a touchback that resulted in a turnover.

Todd Grantham’s defense must keep this momentum going in week five against Nick Fitzgerald, a dual-threat quarterback, who will likely be the Gator defense’s toughest quarterback challenge so far this year. The Bulldogs’ run and pass games must be put in check, and the Gators’ defensive line must block well and put pressure on the quarterback.

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Florida’s defensive leaders, David Reese and CeCe Jefferson, must continue their excellent play from last week, and dynamic defensive playmakers such as C.J. Henderson, Brad Stewart, Jeremiah Moon, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and others must step up with big plays of their own. The turnover battle could be the deciding factor in this game, and it is a battle the Gators must win if they want to leave Starkville with a victory.