As Florida head coach Urban Meyer prepares his Gators for a homecoming showdown with the Arkansas Razorbacks this Saturday, two questions are being asked:
First, how well will the Gators perform in their first test against a prolific passing offense?
Second, does Meyer remember that starting Hog signal-caller Ryan Mallett was wearing blue and maize when Michigan defeated Florida in the 2008 Capital One Bowl?
Since every Gator defensive starter has returned from last year’s squad, the first question can be answered simply by recalling the national championship game against Oklahoma.
Prior to meeting Meyer and his Gators, Heisman winner and Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford led the Sooners to a 12-1 record by racking up about 500 yards of offense per game.
The stats were impressive. Bradford was passing for well over 350 yards with the Sooner backfield rushing for the balance.
Even in a loss to Texas, Oklahoma still accumulated over 400 yards of offense and 35 points.
But in the national championship game, Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong prepared his Gator defense brilliantly. Oklahoma was held to its lowest yardage and scoring totals all year, and the Gators walked away with the crystal trophy in a 24-14 slugfest.
The Gator defense that day was a deadly combination of outstanding talent and peerless game day preparation.
The bad news for Arkansas is that this season's Gator defense is even better, and the Hog offense is nowhere near as potent as Oklahoma's was a year ago.
Sure, the Razorbacks have posted some impressive numbers and love to test defenses by opening up the entire field with a competent passing game. But as exciting as it might be, the Flying Pig aerial attack has a few issues.
To begin with, Hog quarterback Mallett is a more traditional drop back passer. Known more for his arm than his legs, Mallett has led the Razorbacks to a 3-2 record by keeping his nerve in the pocket.
Mallett has nerve because he is used to working behind large offensive lines. In 2007, when Mallett was called upon to replace the injured Chad Henne in only his second game as a Wolverine, he had Jake Long, future offensive tackle top draft pick, looking out for him.
Now with the Hogs, Mallett sits behind the largest line the Gators have faced all season.
The Hogs field one of the biggest lines in the SEC but also one of the slowest, and that spells big trouble for Mallett and head coach Bobby Petrino.
Mallett, as talented as he may be, will be feeling the heat of the spit when he can’t find anybody to throw to and his line fails to cover its blocking zones. Without any real escape speed, Mallett will either force a pass, get caught looking for his check-off tight end, or will simply throw the ball away.
It could be a frustrating outing for Mallett since Florida’s SEC opponents are averaging less than 11 completions per game for fewer than 125 yards.
To make it even worse, the Gator defense is allowing less than 100 yards on the ground. That’s barely enough to keep the linebackers looking for a rush.
Combine all this with yet another statistical possibility, that Arkansas might only have the ball for about 25 minutes, and things could get very bleak for the Hogs.
For Arkansas, it could be a replay of the Alabama game when, against a very talented Tide defense, Mallett completed only 12 of 35 passes for 160 yards, a touchdown, and a pick.
And three sacks.
Petrino and Hog fans may hope Mallett posts better numbers against the Gators, but the real stats say he shouldn’t count on it.
Oh, and the whole losing to Michigan in the Outback Bowl thing?
Well, making life miserable for Mallett and his fellow Hogs on Saturday may not be the same as paying back the Wolverines for an embarrassing postseason loss… but for Meyer and his elephant-like memory it will have to do until Florida gets a chance to meet Michigan on the field.
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