Florida took another important step toward its designs on the SEC East title by knocking off the Arkansas Razorbacks, 30-10, in Week 6. While the unranked Razorbacks don't scream of marquee, signature wins these days, we did learn quite a few things about the Gators in the matchup.
So what do we know now that we didn't before Saturday? Has Florida established itself as a true contender in the SEC East Division this season? Where do the Gators go from here?
We have the answers to these questions and many more in our list of 10 things we learned about Florida in its win over Arkansas.
One of the keys to Florida's game, during its recent offensive anemia, has been a powerful rushing attack. Even as it appears the Gators are awakening from their malaise in yards gained, we still see the amazing depth Will Muschamp has been forced to develop at running back.
Florida had three backfield runners with double-digit yards in Saturday's game, and if you add in quarterback Tyler Murphy, the Gators had four players in double figures.
All told, Florida racked up 115 yards rushing against a typically resilient Arkansas defense. If the Gators truly get the passing game up and running against the best defenses the SEC can throw at it, Florida will instantly return as a national powerhouse.
Florida has typically had some strong performances from its quarterbacks over the years. But ever since Tim Tebow left campus, the Gators have lacked the superstar presence under center.
Enter Tyler Murphy. An injury to starter Jeff Driskel during the game against Tennessee gave Murphy the keys to the Gators offense, and did he ever kick it into high gear. The passing troubles of Driskel have been discussed ad nauseam, but Florida was able to hang with most teams thanks to a great defense and a better-than-average running game.
Now, Murphy (16-of-22 for 240 yards and 3 TDs) seems to be able to drag Florida's passing game out of the doldrums. Murphy is capable of picking up yards with his feet, too. He netted 15 yards on seven credited carries (including sacks), with a long of 15 yards.
While he's not quite Tim Tebow, Murphy is definitely adding a dimension at quarterback that the Gators haven't had since Tebow was barking out the signals.
As strong as Florida's defense has been as of late, it was a little surprising to see the Gators defensive line held in check for as long as it was by Arkansas' offensive line early in the game. Much of the early offensive success the Razorbacks had was due entirely to the ability of the Hogs' O-line to control the line of scrimmage.
When a team is as strong as Florida, that kind of control for the opposition probably won't last for a full 60 minutes, and Arkansas was no different than most other teams that try. But there are definitely teams remaining on Florida's 2013 schedule (Georgia and LSU come to mind) that have offenses that are deeper and more talented than that of Arkansas.
We're very interested in seeing this Florida defense go up against those opponents.
Tyler Murphy isn't the only Gator making a name for himself on offense. Florida's once anonymous offense is now filled with playmakers whom the rest of the SEC must get to know if those teams want to knock off Florida this season.
Suddenly, names like Matt Jones, Solomon Patton and Trey Burton are joining their defensive teammates' names on highlight reels. In last season's Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville, many pointed out that Florida's downfall was its reliance on defense. If things keep heading in the direction we saw against Arkansas, those arguments will be swept away in an offensive blur.
Let's take a closer look at Solomon Patton.
Coming into this season, his senior campaign, Patton had a grand total of eight receptions for 79 yards and no touchdowns. Saturday, against Arkansas, Patton had six receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns (to go along with his 13 receptions for 224 yards and two touchdowns he already has in 2013).
Clearly, Patton is going to be a big part of the offensive renaissance in Gainesville, but if he keeps up this pace, with his improved route running, he might be finding his name atop many All-SEC ballots at season's end.
The biggest, most glaring issue for the Florida Gators, when it comes to discipline, was obviously Jonotthan Harrison's ejection for, well, whatever it is you want to call it. Whether it was a heated argument with an official or whether Harrison touched the SEC crew's umpire, it's clear that it was a really boneheaded thing to do.
But Harrison wasn't the only Gator guilty of forcing flags from the hips of the officials for really silly reasons. In all, the Gators were flagged eight times for 84 yards.
That doesn't look quite as bad against Arkansas, itself flagged eight times (57 yards), but in games where each and every yard—or each and every drive—is of critical importance, Will Muschamp will need to keep his guys on a very short leash.
After all, Arkansas benefited three times in Gainesville on third downs that resulted in a first down only because of Florida penalties. The Hogs couldn't make the Gators pay, but the LSU Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs will.
When on-field personnel changes, particularly in the middle of a season due to injury, it can be difficult for a lot of coaches to change the way they run their offenses. Muschamp is clearly enjoying the opposite problem.
While no one should be happy to see any player go down for the season because of an injury, Florida's offensive playbook has been opened up, thanks to the run-throw combo available from Tyler Murphy.
While Florida is—and will remain—a run-first team, the 22 passes made (compared to the 41 rush attempts) are beginning to take a good deal of pressure off the Gators' backfield.
Teams are no longer able to load the box against this Florida team. While Driskel was a serviceable passer, most top-flight SEC defenses field secondaries that could handle the passing ability of Driskel.
Murphy is a different kind of quarterback. He can beat you with his arm or with a run to the outside. Corners will now need an extra level of security provided by linebackers in the middle and safeties over the top to keep the Gators receivers in check.
That, in turn, will open up more room for Florida's talented runners. The job of defensive coordinators facing Florida this season just got much more complicated.
If you could point to one part of Florida's defense over the past season-and-a-half that was the relative weak point, it has to be the secondary.
Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals exposed some massive holes in Florida's defensive backfield, and every now and then, we still see some weakness outside of the front seven. Early against Arkansas, Brandon Allen was able to find his receivers on the edge often enough to cause some concern.
To be honest, Florida's pass defense was bailed out, down the stretch, by the Arkansas receivers, who appeared to be attempting to catch a ball coated in Vaseline.
It's still Florida. What's more, it's a Florida Gators team that looks a lot more scary to opponents than it did on the heels of a very ugly loss to Miami a few weeks ago.
Florida seems energized by Murphy and Patton, and the running game is going to become nearly unstoppable with the pressure being relieved by an improved passing game. The Florida defense is still one of the nation's best, and that doesn't show any signs of changing.
Remember, Florida is 3-0 in the SEC, and with both Georgia and South Carolina still to come, the Gators could even conceivably absorb a loss to LSU and still emerge as SEC East champions if they remain unbeaten against the SEC the rest of the regular season.
And it looks as if Florida finally has the one thing that kept it from winning a title last season: a multi-faceted offense.
Florida fans have enough reason to hate the Miami Hurricanes. Could you just imagine if the 'Canes are the reason the Gators are locked out of the BCS National Championship Game, because of that aforementioned loss?
It's looking more and more likely that there are going to be multiple unbeaten conference champions at season's end. With Ohio State knocking off Northwestern in the Big Ten, Louisville unchallenged in the American Athletic Conference and with Clemson and Florida State in the ACC and Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 just cruising along, there could be three, or even four, undefeated conference champions come "Selection Sunday."
While it's perfectly feasible to see a one-loss SEC team jump ahead of, say, an unbeaten Louisville, we're not likely to see a team like Florida jump more than two or three unbeatens with a non-conference loss to a non-champion on its record.
But we like the Gators' chances in 2014, when college football (finally) moves to a playoff system.
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