After coming up short in their SEC opener, the Razorbacks head for the Sunshine State this week to face the #18 ranked Florida Gators (3-1). The 6:00 kickoff will be televised for the second week in a row by ESPN2.
We’re not much on moral victories around here, but we were very encouraged by the way the Hogs competed last Saturday in the 45-33 loss to the Aggies. With Brandon Allen’s return (282 PaYds, 3TDs), we saw firsthand what the threat of a credible passing game can mean for this offense.
Allen spread the ball around to his backs, receivers and tight end and kept the Hogs rolling and within striking distance all night. Despite giving up 38 points to Johnny Manziel and gang, the Hogs defense forced the Aggies to punt four times (a season high).
“I’m not in ballgames to look good. I want to win them,” Bret Bielema said. “Every game that I’m a part of. It meant a lot to play A&M the way that they’re playing right now. A very, very good football team. Kevin’s got them rolling. Got a special player. For us to play the way that we did, I’m happy. But I’m by no means satisfied.”
As for the Gators and 3rd year head coach Will Muschamp (21-9 overall), they are fresh off a 24-7 win over Kentucky. The game marked the first start by backup quarterback Tyler Murphy who has taken over for the injured Jeff Driskel. Driskel was lost for the season (leg) in the first quarter of the Tennessee game two weeks ago.
The Gators might actually be better off with Murphy at the helm. Driskel had been inconsistent and ineffective before his exit. The redshirt junior Murphy – a two-star recruit out of high school – is not flashy, but has been steady so far (23-32, 290 PaYds, 2TDs).
Muschamp and the Gators though will play to the strengths they have in the running game. Sophomore running back Matt Jones (272 RuYds, 2TDs) went for 176 yards against Kentucky, topping the total yards by the Wildcats (173) by himself. At 6-2, Jones has the size and speed to be a workhorse back in the SEC. Look for the Gators to try and ride him again Saturday.
On defense, Florida is getting over the loss of All-American candidate defensive tackle Dominique Easley who tore an ACL in practice last week and is lost for the season. With Easley out, sophomore defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. (3 Sacks, 6 TFL) has been the most productive in 2013. True freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III leads the team in interceptions (3) and pass break ups (4).
The Gators special teams took a hit last season with the graduation of All-American kicker Caleb Sturgis, who now kicks for the Miami Dolphins. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin has been inconsistent so far, hitting 4-of-7 FGs with a long of 33 yards.
The Hogs have never beaten Florida since joining the SEC (0-8), and if they are going to have a chance in this one, they will need to keep Brandon Allen clean again this week. The threat of both the run and pass will be required to keep one of the best defenses in the SEC off balance.
This will be the first night game in Gainesville in over a year, so the crowd will be lively for sure. Extended forecasts for Saturday call for 40% chance of rain with game time temperature in the low 80s. Florida is favored by 10 1/2.