Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Florida Gators: Complete Game Preview
The first month of the college football season passed. Now begins the month of October, when teams get fully into the conference slate, and the stakes are raised even higher.
The Arkansas Razorbacks enter October with a 3-2 (0-1 SEC) record and began its brutal four-game stretch with a loss, 45-33, to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Saturday, the Hogs travel to Gainesville for the team's first conference road game of the season against the Florida Gators.
Head coach Will Muschamp and his Gators won, 24-7, at Kentucky last weekend but continued to struggle on offense. Losing starting quarterback Jeff Driskel for the rest of the year with a broken leg versus Tennessee didn't help the cause either.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks match up very well against the Florida. A win on the road, and the Hogs put themselves in good position for a return to the postseason. However, a loss would be a huge blow to bowl aspirations.
Here's the inside scoop on what Arkansas must do to snap its two-game losing skid and gain some much needed momentum with South Carolina and Alabama looming on the schedule.
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Place: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.
Radio: Arkansas Razorbacks Radio Network and Gator Football Radio Network
Spread: Florida by 11 per VegasInsider.com
Arkansas Keys to Victory
Putting up points early on the road in a hostile environment is essential for being competitive the rest of the game. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is notoriously loud, so Arkansas will want to try and score on the Gators early to take the crowd out of it.
It did that at Rutgers but failed to close out the game. Gaining momentum early is big. If the Razorbacks can score starting off, it will put pressure on a Florida offense that has struggled through four games to keep up.
Continue to Pound the Ground
As stated, the Gators offense has been rather inept in 2013, ranking 70th in the country in total yards per game. Arkansas has one of the best running back duos in the SEC in freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams. The two have combined for 1,068 yards and six of the team's seven rushing touchdowns.
Success on the ground eats the clock, keeping the opposing team's offense off the field. What makes that even more important in this game is the fact that Florida's offense isn't built to come from behind.
Tying in with the first key of scoring early, doing that by running the ball not only forces the Gators offense to come from behind, but to do it in less time. Florida has yet to prove it can accomplish that.
Win the Line of Scrimmage on Defense
Arkansas wasn't able to get enough pressure on Manziel last week, and it hurt the team, especially in the first half. It also gave up 262 yards on the ground, well over its average of 126.4 YPG allowed.
The Gators' Tyler Murphy is making just the second start of his career. Before being forced to play with Driskel going down, he had never even completed a pass at the collegiate level. The Razorbacks defensive line needs to return to form and make Murphy beat them with his arm.
The Hogs are tied for No.17 in sacks per game (3.0) nationally, and putting pressure on Murphy would make it very tough for him to make plays through the air. Arkansas can also put pressure on Murphy by shutting down Florida's running game, which is 36th with 211.3 YPG.
Inexperienced quarterbacks are often easily rattled. Winning the line of scrimmage for the Razorbacks would greatly raise the team's chances of leaving Gainesville with the W.
Florida Keys to Victory
Protect Tyler Murphy
It's obvious, but it's more important than anything for Florida Saturday against the Hogs. The offensive line has done a good job of it so far, allowing just five sacks. However, Arkansas has a talented D-line led by Trey Flowers and Chris Smith.
The two have combined for 9.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss. The Arkansas defense has 15 total sacks through five games and provides a big challenge for the Gators offensive line. If they can't keep the Hogs from getting penetration, the extremely inexperienced Murphy will have a lot of pressure on him to make throws from the Razorback defenders.
Slow Down Collins and Williams
It's definitely easier said than done, but the Gators have the top-ranked rush defense in all of college football, allowing a mere 53.5 YPG.
The Hogs have been able to wear defenses out by continuously rotating between Collins and Williams, both of which average over six yards a pop. However, unlike their own offense, if the Arkansas run game is shut down, it has a capable quarterback in Brandon Allen who can make plays through the air.
Still, if the Gators want to avoid the loss, the defense has to limit big plays from the legs of Collins and Williams.
Run the Ball
With such inexperience at the quarterback position, Muschamp needs to be sure his team runs early and often.
Matt Jones and Mack Brown (most decidedly not Texas' head coach) are the main guys carrying the ball for Florida, though neither have been anywhere near the numbers Collins and Williams have put up. Jones (58 carries, 272 yards, two touchdowns) and Brown (65 carries, 245 yards, three touchdowns) only average 4.3 YPC combined and have struggled to break loose for big gains.
The last thing the Gators need is for Murphy to have to try and win the game himself. Jones and Brown must be successful running Saturday to help open up receivers when Murphy does throw.
Arkansas Players to Watch
Trey Flowers and Chris Smith
They can be lumped together because both are equally important in the Hogs getting pressure on Murphy. Flowers and Smith have the ability to get to the quarterback and wreak havoc all night in the Gators backfield. They'll be tested by a Gators offensive line that has given up just five sacks through four games.
The speed of Texas A&M's offense made it hard for either to get to Manziel, but the tempo will be much slower against Florida. Look for Flowers and Smith to be very active Saturday.
If his shoulder was bothering him during the team's loss to the Aggies, Allen didn't show it. He threw for a game-high 282 yards and three touchdowns. Though he threw two picks, one being returned for six points, they weren't due to his shoulder limiting him. One was a lack of awareness and the other came in the final minutes with Allen trying too hard to make a big play.
Florida's pass defense is sixth nationally in passing YPG allowed (149.0), however it hasn't faced a quarterback as talented as Allen.
He made some great passes versus the Aggies and is beginning to develop good relationships with wide receivers Keon Hatcher and Javontee Herndon. He'll need to improve his accuracy (47.2 percent last weekend), but Allen is steadily improving and showing he has what it takes to be a top-level SEC quarterback.
Collins and Williams would be a blatantly obvious choice, so here's another young and talented freshman for the Hogs you'll want to be sure and follow throughout the game.
Tight end Hunter Henry was a highly sought after recruit, rated a 4-star prospect and the No. 4 tight end in the country according to Rivals.com, and he is showing why. He had a breakout game last week, catching four balls for 109 yards and 27.3 yards per catch. He's emerging as a top target for Allen and a big-play threat, averaging a team-high 19.5 YPC.
Henry is great at finding holes in the defense's coverage and his 6'6" frame will make hard for Florida linebackers to keep him from making plays. Expect him to play a big role Saturday in Gainesville.
Florida Players to Watch
Before last week's game at Kentucky, Jones had 96 yards on 30 carries in two games, averaging 48.0 YPG. You could call his 176 yards on 28 carries last Saturday a breakout.
His YPG average jumped 42.7 yards to 90.7. Behind a good Gator O-line, Jones finally was able to run wild.The Arkansas defense had trouble last week with Texas A&M's speedy tailbacks, and it won't get a break with Jones this weekend.
He possesses great speed but also has a powerful 6'2", 226-pound frame that makes it hard for defenders to bring him down on first contact. Expect him to get a lot of touches with the inexperienced Murphy under center.
The Florida defense is really good once again this year, though there really hasn't been a guy to put up eye-popping stats. That doesn't mean there aren't some great players on that side of the ball.
Sophomore defensive end Dante Fowler is a rising star on the Gators defense. He leads the team in sacks (3.0) and tackles for loss (6.0) and is quickly establishing himself as a force on the outside. Florida hasn't been as good as they normally are in team sacks, ranking 33rd in the country, but Allen and the Arkansas O-line will have to keep tabs on Fowler.
This is also avoiding the obvious pick in Murphy and naming another guy that the Hogs have to look out for. Wide receiver Trey Burton isn't leading the team in yards, YPC or touchdowns, but he is the most consistent and reliable of the bunch.
Whether it's been Driskel or Murphy, he has been the top target to throw to. He is first on the team with 20 catches and, though he isn't huge, he plays physical and is a burner.
Before this year, his high for a season in receiving yards was 210 when he was a freshman, but he already has 226 in 2013. Burton seems determined to go out with a bang. He led the team at Kentucky with six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. Murphy targeted Burton often thus far, so the Arkansas secondary will want to press him throughout the game.
What They Are Saying
Henry told Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com that the Hogs know all about the Florida rush defense, which is first in the country.
"You can see what they have on tape," Henry said. "They're big, they're fast, they're really good. They're a great football team. It's going to be a big challenge for us. It's our first SEC road game, so we're going to have to play our best. They're going to come in playing their best."
Allen, who is still nursing a sore shoulder that caused him to miss the Rutgers game, also spoke with HawgSports.com, saying it is almost 100 percent.
"It's not giving me too many problems at all. Just rehabbing every day. It's pretty much back to full strength."
Florida running back Jones looked like the No. 1 guy last week. Bryan Holt of InsidetheGators.com noted that Florida wants one primary back, but Jones still has to prove he deserves it:
Jones' breakout 28-carry, 176-yard game will be prefaced with the fact it came against Kentucky for the time being. His carries total shows the Gators are still more comfortable with treating him as their No. 1 guy, but a prolonged slow start to a game or his third fumble of the season could push junior Mack Brown into action. Florida would like one primary back, but Jones has to give the staff reason to give him that title.
One thing coaches never want their players doing is giving the other team motivation with pre-game chirping. Defensive tackle Damien Jacobs did just that. A story by David Jones of USA Today says that he called the Razorbacks O-line "dirty":
They're 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 with the center, No. 64. He's a good athlete after the play. He makes you want to do something to him. We're going to have to try to keep our temper and keep cool on that.
Arkansas 28, Florida 24
The Razorbacks need a win with South Carolina coming to Fayetteville next week, followed by a trip to Alabama. The running duo of Collins and Williams is what will be the difference in this game.
Though Florida is tops in the country in rush defense, it has yet to face a duo as talented as the Hogs have. Collins and Williams will have success on the ground, allowing Allen to continue to progress and have shots at making big plays through the air.
With a successful ground attack, Allen and the offense will score early and put pressure on the Gators to come from behind. The pressure will get to Murphy, causing him to make crucial mistakes that will ultimately cost Florida the game.
The game will be closely contested, but the legs of Collins and Williams will limit the Gators time of possession and not give them enough plays to get the victory.