Florida Gators vs. Arkansas Razorbacks Complete Game Preview
The last time Florida and Arkansas shared a scoreboard, Tim Tebow was on a football field. So was Aaron Hernandez.
Saturday, the Gators will host the Razorbacks for their first game against each other since 2009. It was UF's homecoming matchup, decided by Caleb Sturgis' field goal in the final seconds, which lifted Florida to a 23-20 victory.
Four years later, Florida won't be entering the Arkansas game as the best squad in the country.
Currently, No. 19 Florida (3-1, 2-0 SEC) is fresh off a Week 5 victory at Kentucky. While the Gators aren't the top team in the nation, they do lead the NCAA in rushing defense (53.5) and third-down defense (.178).
Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 SEC) is coming down to Florida after a loss at No. 10 Texas A&M last weekend. The Razorbacks are tied for the toughest schedule in the SEC, tackling Florida, LSU and Alabama all on the road this season.
When: Saturday, Oct. 5; 7 p.m. ET
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.
Radio: Sirius 94, XM 200
Spread: Florida (-10.5); Via TeamRankings.com
Florida Gators' Keys to Victory
Slow Arkansas' Pass Rush
The Razorbacks rank among the nation's elite when it comes to pass-rushers. Some highlights: Senior DE Chris Smith is first in the conference and third in the country with his six sacks, while fellow defensive end Trey Flowers is first in the SEC with two forced fumbles.
Well, we’ll have different protections and whether it’s a six or seven man protection, utilizing our tight ends and our backs to chip on [Chris] Smith and [Trey] Flowers. They’re really good rushers, they have two big guys inside that do a really good job of pushing the pocket; but there’s no question we need to account for them on the edges, and that will be something we address as the week goes on.
Establish Consistency on Special Teams
The last time Florida and Arkansas squared off, the win was decided by Florida's field goal. This year, the Razorbacks hold an advantage with kicker Zach Hocker, who is ranked first in the country with his perfect field-goal percentage. Against Texas A&M, he registered touchbacks on four of his six kickoffs.
While this game isn't likely to come down to a field goal again, the Arkansas game is a healthy reminder of the difference special teams can make. Looking at the Gators, Muschamp said he was pleased with redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin's play at Kentucky. Four out of his five kicks resulted in touchbacks.
Arkansas Razorbacks' Keys to Victory
All around, Arkansas flexes major skills in its rushing. Looking at the Razorbacks' stats, it's impossible to ignore. So far, Arkansas has seven 100-yard rushing performances on the season. Seven.
The guy who embodies this team's rushing domination best is freshman running back Alex Collins. He's averaging 119.4 yards a game as Arkansas' top rusher with a total of 597 yards. This is more than double that of Florida's top-rusher total (272, Matt Jones).
It's no secret the Gators struggle when it comes to committing penalties. The Razorbacks? Not so much. In fact, against Johnny Football and Co., Arkansas was only flagged once, for five yards.
Florida has become infamous for being its own worst enemy when it comes to penalties, and Arkansas needs to continue to rely on its self control to gain the upper hand in this area of the game come Saturday.
Florida Players to Watch
Vernon Hargreaves III (DB, Fr.)
The reigning SEC Freshman of the Week is quickly morphing into one of the most exciting UF players to watch between the lines. The defensive back is Florida's top interceptor, with three on the year.
Against Kentucky, the freshman made a huge interception to rob the Wildcats of a touchdown. Vernon Hargreaves III is a guy to keep an eye on not only because of his raw talent and increasing role for the Gators, but due to the show he puts on in game time.
Damien Jacobs (DT, Sr.)
Dominique Easley's roommate threw the first punch at Arkansas this week. The senior defensive tackle essentially called out center Travis Swanson for his "dirty play" when the clock stops. Damien Jacobs discussed the Gators' need to keep it cool by not reacting to it. It'll be interesting to see if Jacobs can practice what he preaches when the lights come on.
Arkansas Players to Watch
Travis Swanson (C, Sr.)
Because of Damien Jacobs' description of Travis Swanson, no doubt he'll be the center of attention (no pun intended) in The Swamp Saturday.
While Swanson can talk the talk, he can walk the walk, too. The team captain has 43 straight starts, and his preseason honors comprise a long list including the Coaches All-SEC First Team and the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the best center in college football. Keep tabs on Swanson to see what after-play action he dishes out Saturday.
Chris Smith (DE, Sr.)
As part of the duo UF coach Will Muschamp warned of in the pass-rush threat, Chris Smith is a key Razorbacks player to watch. In addition to his No. 1 SEC rank with his six sacks, Smith is second in the nation with his 51 sack yards.
Muschamp described him as "a guy that has a really good initial quickness in first step" (GatorZone.com). Gators QB Tyler Murphy is next up on Smith's victim list.
What They're Saying
Florida head coach Will Muschamp during Monday's press conference (via GatorZone.com):
They’re a very physical football team. I don’t think defensively that we have seen a team like this...It’s going to be a great night in the Swamp. Seven o’clock kickoff. We’re looking forward to it. Our players, getting back last time we were in our stadium against Tennessee, was an unbelievable environment and that’s what we are certainly going to expect again.
Gators defensive tackle Damien Jacobs during media Tuesday (via GatorVision):
They're (offense) is real physical. I think they're a little chippy. They're a little dirty. So we're going to have to be ready for it all this week. I just see from film, a lot of stuff after the play. Especially No. 64 (Travis Swanson). He'll get after you after the play. We're going to have to try to keep our temper and keep cool.
It's a big week this week. It's the second week in the SEC and we play Florida at their home turf. We haven't beat Florida in SEC play, so it's an opportunity to do something that's never been done here. It's exciting for our guys and I think they got some mojo out of last week.
Razorbacks assistant head coach Charlie Partridge during media Sunday (via ArkansasRazorbacks.com):
I'm very excited. "Obviously, for recruiting, it's great to get exposure in that state. We don't even have to say anything. My brother graduated from there. He's going to be at the game. It's a very exciting, personal game for me.
Florida's first night game on home turf will undoubtedly provide one of the most electric arenas in college football on Saturday. The game certainly won't be a nail-biter like the 2009 contest, but it'll have the same result: a UF win.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema described it best in his press conference Monday when he said,"I told our guys after the (Texas A&M) game, 'We're not there yet, but this climb to the top of the mountain has been a lot of fun. When we get to the top, it's going to be really fun to know what you did'" (via ArkansasRazorbacks.com).
Florida 26, Arkansas 17