Gainesville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The 18th-ranked Florida Gators will attempt to win their third straight conference game on Saturday night when they play host to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The Brett Bielema era of Arkansas football got off to a fast start, as the team won each of its first three games, but things have not gone so smoothly in recent weeks. The Razorbacks have slipped to 3-2 after suffering a road loss to Rutgers on Sept. 21 (28-24), and a home defeat to Texas A&M in their SEC opener last Saturday (45-33).
"I'm excited about this group," Bielema said. "If they continue to give me the effort they gave me (versus Texas A&M) we'll be able to win some games. Obviously the schedule doesn't get any easier with Florida coming up but I think they understand how much they have to give."
Since losing at Miami-Florida on Sept. 7 (21-16), Florida has bounced back with victories in each of its first two SEC tilts, winning at home versus Tennessee (31-17), and at Kentucky (24-7), and while it faces three ranked foes over the next six weeks, Will Muschamp's club still controls its own destiny in the SEC East.
"It's been a long week for us psychologically and mentally as much as anything," said Muschamp, whose team has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks. "I'm very pleased with how our guys pulled together and came up (to Kentucky) and did what we did."
The Gators have dominated the all-time series with Arkansas, winning eight of the nine previous matchups, including all three bouts in Gainesville.
Despite experiencing almost a complete overhaul of starters from last season, the Arkansas offense is performing well in putting up averages of 29.2 ppg and 414.6 ypg.
Brandon Allen missed the Rutgers game with a shoulder injury but returned against Texas A&M to throw for a career-high 282 yards. Despite tossing eight touchdowns paired with just three interceptions, the signal caller is completing just 53.8 percent of his pass attempts.
The Razorbacks are at their best when they are committed to the ground game. Alex Collins is the workhorse, leading the SEC in carries (100) and yards (597), while scoring three times. Jonathan Williams has also been heavily involved with 471 yards and three scores.
Javontee Herndon (14 receptions, 236 yards, four TDs) and Hunter Henry (12 receptions, 234 yards, TD) are Allen's two most trusted targets at receiver. Williams is sure-handed out of the backfield with six catches and a pair of scores.
The Arkansas defense has held up to the tune of 22.2 ppg and 336.4 ppg allowed, both of which rank in the upper half of the SEC, although over the past two losses the unit has yielded 73 total points.
Jarrett Lake has a club-best 38 tackles despite missing a game. Chris Smith is one of the nation's top pass rushers with 7.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks and five QB hurries, while Trey Flowers (5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, two FF) has also played well along the defensive line.
Florida's offense has been disappointing to say the least, as it ranks 13th in the SEC in scoring (23.8 ppg) and 12th in yardage (403.0 ypg), all while posting an unacceptably high turnover number (10).
The Gators appeared to be in trouble when they lost quarterback Jeff Driskel for the year with a broken leg, but Tyler Murphy has played very well in his place, completing nearly 72 percent of his passes for 290 yards with two scores and a pick, to go along with 120 rushing yards and two more touchdowns.
"I had a few nerves just like every game," said Murphy, who made his first career start last week versus Kentucky. "I was able to hand the ball off to Matt Jones and throw a swing route to get the offense going. I was then able to settle down. I felt really calm as I had the support of teammates. They made my job real easy."
Jones had a busy day against Kentucky with 31 touches for 196 total yards and a touchdown, giving him a team-high 272 rushing yards on the season. Mack Brown has also been involved in the rushing attack with 245 yards and three touchdowns, although he averages just 3.8 ypc.
Trey Burton (226 yards, TD), Quinton Dunbar (231 yards) and Soloman Patton (224 yards, two TDs) make up a solid receiving trio. No other Gator has more than 26 receiving yards.
While the offense has been sluggish, Florida's defense has been nothing short of spectacular. Not only does it lead the SEC in points permitted, (12.8 ppg), but it ranks second in the nation in total defense (202.5 ypg).
The unit has forced nine turnovers, with Vernon Hargreaves leading the way with three interceptions. Dante Fowler is well on his way to an All-SEC campaign, racking up 6.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The team suffered an unfortunate blow last week when it lost defensive tackle Dominique Easley for the season with a torn ACL. Easley had 2.0 TFL and four QB hurries and was projected as a first-round pick in next year's NFL draft.