When: 7 p.m. (ET) Saturday Oct. 5, 2013; ESPN2
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium; Gainesville, Florida
BUILD SOME CONFIDENCE
The Gators come into the contest about as healthy as they have been all season long outside of the season ending injuries they have endured. They understand they have to move on without the big time players missing and seem to be doing just that.
Statistically, Florida has dominated every game they have played in just about every category except, penalties, turnovers and against Miami the scoreboard. In their last game, the Gators had a season low five penalties against Kentucky and were very efficient on offense scoring on four of six possessions where they weren't trying to run time off the clock at the end of each half.
The Florida offense has settled in a bit with quarterback Tyler Murphy at the helm in place of Jeff Driskel. Murphy has been efficient with a little bit of flare with the ball. He was responsible for a five quarter spurt between the last three quarters of the Tennessee game and first half at Kentucky where the Gators scored 52 points, certainly their most productive of the season.
Murphy stayed efficient in the Kentucky game making the one mistake in an interception, but made the tackle on the play and the Wildcats claimed no points off of the miscue.
The thing Florida wanted to see most was to get the ground game untracked and that they did with 246 yards against the Wildcats led by Matt Jones and his career best 176 yards. Mack Brown ran hard as well and Murphy added some yards on the ground too.
A lot of the success of the running game last week should be attributed to an offensive line that is getting healthy and may be at its peak of health this week. With everyone back last week, the offensive line got another week of mending in the last six days and should be ready to roll Saturday.
Florida is getting consistent but not spectacular play from the receiver position. Still looking for a player or two to show up as the designated big-play maker, finding a couple of these types will go a long way in making this more than just an efficient offense.
The defense handled the loss of All-American candidate Dominique Easley about as well as to be expected. The senior defensive tackle was lost for the season in the middle of the week before the Kentucky contest and the defense stood up to the multi-dimensional offense the Wildcats threw at them.
Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard is now playing a slightly different role than expected being asked to play a bit of the 3-technique position vacated by Easley. Bullard did so while gathering 1.5 sacks on the night. Starting BUCK Dante Fowler hit on two sacks in the contest and from his opposite end position he has been a force all year.
The Gators have looked solid to excellent at linebacker all year and have five players that are playing at a high level led by senior Ronald Powell, junior Michael Taylor, and sophomore Antonio Morrison. This group has helped Florida to its top ranking nationally in rush defense at 53.5 yards per game on the ground.
A huge Florida strength is the secondary where the Gators can rotate five players at cornerback and not miss much and have gotten really solid play at safety, a position that was supposed to be a weak link of this team.
Junior starting corner Marcus Roberson was held out last week but could have played if needed. He should be close to 100% on Saturday and that will raise a little suspense because freshman sensation Vernon Hargreaves has played well when inserted in the game, started last week and landed his team high third interception in the game.
Florida head coach Will Muschamp has expressed his optimism in field goal kicker Austin Hardin, even though Hardin is just 4 of 7 on the year. Punter Kyle Christy didn't have to punt last week but will need to step up his game as well.
Hargreaves was inserted as a punt returner last week for Roberson but didn't do much. They expect big things so I would suspect he stays there at least until Roberson has zero rust. Kick returns have been solid but not spectacular with senior receiver Solomon Patton being the lead guy.
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen comes to town with his first start on the road in his career. The Swamp isn't the best place for that, but he appears to certainly be their best weapon at the position even if nursing a sore shoulder. He has missed a game and a half with the injury already but was back last week and played well for the most part against Texas A&M.
Allen averages 167 yards per game through the air and has thrown eight touchdowns to three interceptions. He has two receivers with double digit receptions and Jacksonville, Florida native Javontee Herndon leads the team with 14 catches for 236 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Hunter Henry is a freshman all-American to be and is second on the team with 12 catches for 234 yards and a touchdown.
Arkansas has a stout offensive line that returns all five starters from a year ago and a four year starter at center. They are a unit that helps the ground game gain a very solid 237 yards per game on the ground.
The Razorbacks split carries between Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. The latter is a true freshman that is second in the SEC in yards per game at 119.4. Williams has started every game ad adds 94.2 yards per game on the ground. Each has scored three touchdowns. They may be the best 1-2 punch in the conference at this point.
On defense, the Razorbacks sport four linemen that all return from starting a year ago. Ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers and tackles Robert Thomas and Byran Jones have 10.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss on the year. Linebacker is where Arkansas struggles. Senior Jarrett Lake does lead the team in tackles with 38, but elsewhere they struggle.
The Arkansas secondary played solid against lesser offenses, but struggled when the ball was thrown around. Their corners are susceptible to the big play.
Offensively the Gators want to of course establish the ground game. They looked improved and face a quality rush defense in Arkansas who sits 35th in the country in rush defense heading into the contest. If Florida can get to the second level often and past the defensive line, they can have a lot of success running the ball. Arkansas is tough in the trenches, but just not that tough elsewhere. The Gators want to get to the edge on this defense so look for them to use faster guys to run the toss more frequently in this game.
In the passing game, the Gators should be able to take advantage of a middle range passing game and again attack the linebacker area of the defense for the Razorbacks. This is right up their alley in being efficient an safe. They need guys like Solomon Patton and Trey Burton to take advantage of this and make something happen after the catch in the game.
Defensively, Florida will look to shut down the run. None of the Razorback receivers scare anyone and tight end Hunter Henry has only scored on a half back pass / trick play. Florida should employ a lot of man-on man defense and work to get to the running backs with as much help as they can.
Arkansas can kick well in both field goals and punting. They have the upper hand right now unless Florida can get their kids settled down. The Gators can take advantage of punt returns where Arkansas gave up two scores against Rutgers in the loss to the Scarlet Knights.
Florida is hosting their first night game in The Swamp in two years. The stadium should be pumped for the contest and against a quarterback that has never started on the road. I think linebacker play on both sides will be the difference in the game and calling it… 24-13 Gators.
Here is more from the week leading up to the game…
Burton catching on
Hargreaves named SEC Freshman of the Week
Easley to enter NFL Draft
Muschamp excited for two-back test
Gators excited for night game
Hollywood Bob revisits the Kentucky game
Higdon & Hollywood's hot and cold recruiting board
Jones trying to let loose
Gators in the NFL: Week Four
Offensive line health benefiting offense
Jacobs calls Arkansas offensive line ‘dirty'
Hardin knows about high standard at UF
Pease used nature walk to calm Murphy
Audio: Gators and More with Hollywood Bob
Muschamp teleconference transcript
State of the Hogs: Mentors
Florida staff preparing with lots of film
Hawgs Illustrated in-depth look at Arkansas
Bullard getting comfortable inside
Your questions answered
Boredom a positive for Florida defense
Murphy excelling by staying the same
Taylor playing opportunistic