Florida faces Arkansas in the SEC title game that features the third best combined records in championship game history. The two teams are 21-3 combined which trails the Florida-Alabama game in 1994 and the Auburn-Tennessee 2004 as the only match-ups with a better winning percentage. It’s the ultimate style match-up with the conference’s best rush defense versus the league’s best running game.
If they say games are won and lost in the trenches, then this particular game will bear that out. Not one single running back has gone for 100 yards on the Gators all season, yet the Razorbacks have two guys capable of doing it in one game. This is going to be a terrific game in which both teams are evenly matched.
DID YOU KNOW? This season UF defeated UT, UGA and FSU. The 1995 team is the only team to do that and win the conference title game. The opponent in 1995? Arkansas. UF would also play for the national title in that season.
Florida makes its eighth appearance in the title game and will serve as the home team. UF has not lost a game in the home uniforms under Urban Meyer. Arkansas is appearing in the title game for third time. The Razorbacks are the 10th bowl eligible team the Gators face this season and the third 10-win team (LSU W; Auburn L). Over the last 14 games only Ohio State has had a better record than the Gators. Arkansas is the eleventh ranked team that Urban Meyer has faced and he is currently 7-3. UF is 5-2 in the SEC title game losing its first appearance in 1992, 28-21, to the eventual national champion Crimson Tide and the amazing one sided rematch in 1997 against Alabama 34-7.
What’s at stake?
The conference title and the berth in the Sugar Bowl is enough to mention. In the 100th year of Gator football it would be a sweet finish to go to the Sugar Bowl as conference champions. I would only be the seventh official title in UF football history. A loss and the Gators could be headed tumbling to the Capital One Bowl versus Wisconsin. LSU seems very confident that it is going to the BCS. The Tigers began selling tickets to their boosters for a possible trip to the Rose Bowl or the Orange Bowl. If the Rose Bowl goes with a rematch of Michigan and Notre Dame, a Florida loss will send the Gators to the Orange Bowl in my opinion. The bottom line is the Gators need to win and go to the Sugar Bowl to play Notre Dame who beat my team in 1991. It was my last game in a Gator uniform.
STATISTIC: Arkansas has allowed eight teams to rush for over 100 yards this season.
The Gator offense will face an improving Razorback defense which is ranked 29th in the country which is just one spot behind USC. Arkansas is athletic and aggressive with their approach. They have three players that I believe are worth watching on every snap. Jamaal Anderson is a terror at the defensive end with an SEC leading 11 sacks to go with 15.5 tackles for loss. Sam Olajubutu is a senior linebacker that leads the hogs in tackles while Chris Houston shines in man coverage in the secondary. This is a big play defense and I mean that both ways. They will create a big play and also give up a big one. They have relinquished 30 plays over 20+ yards this season. The Hogs have not allowed a quarterback to throw for 300 yards this entire season.
STATISTIC: Chris Leak needs 65 yards to pass Danny Wuerffel as UF’s all-time passing yardage leader.
I look for the Gators to implore a similar offensive plan in this game that they had against South Carolina. Florida tried to go down the field several times getting two pass interference penalties. Leak will be the key for this game once again as he must not underthrow the deep balls to Caldwell and Baker. Percy Harvin will have a chance to shine on the shallow cross and his overall health is big this week. He provides the run after the catch on the short routes that give the offense a chance when he causes match-up problems. This could be a game where UF runs enough to keep Arkansas honest but sets up the success by throwing early and often. The Gator offensive tackles must play very well this week and the running backs must find the blitzer. If UF can score early and play from ahead the defense will soften up against the run. This would be the perfect game for UF to his one of those rollout touchdown passes like they did against Tennessee. Leak has thrown the ball well outside the pocket and moving him around against man coverage could cause problems for the Razorbacks. Florida improved its third down conversions considerably from 2005 and that is a testament to Chris Leak.
STATISTIC: Arkansas is fourth in the country in rushing offense at 236 yards per game.
The Razorbacks and their “Wildcat” formation has provided some unbelievable rushing numbers this season. Darren McFadden could finish in the top five in the Heisman Trophy balloting, while his partner Felix Jones is just 39 yards short of 1000 for the season. Both backs are fast and can take it the distance. Arkansas has gone over 200 yards rushing in six of the last eight games. The Razorback rushing attack can hit the home run at any time and has produced 29 big plays over 20 yards this season. Guz Malzahn’s offense had produced 26 scoring drives of five plays or less, which is second best in the country. Casey Dick is an average quarterback but wide receiver Marcus Monk is a big time receiver. His size (6-6) has helped him become the focal point of the passing game and he averages over 19 yards per reception.
STATISTIC: Florida has given up just 5 runs over 20 yards on defense all season.
It is very simple for the Gator defense this week and that is don’t gamble and give up the big plays. With all the emotion at the start of the game the advantage could be to the offenses if either defense tries to make the big play to start the game. The Gators have been sound and solid in their run “fits” all season. I think UF will commit one more player to the box and play soft on the corner. Tony Joiner is the man who could emerge for the Gators this week. It has been awhile since Joiner has made a major impact but he will be called upon to crowd the box and keep the run game from breaking big plays. Up the middle I was encouraged by Steven Harris last week and Brandon Siler looks better than he did in the South Carolina game. Arkansas is pretty much a run first team and they will stay in that mode as long as the game is within striking distance. The goal is to make Arkansas throw but that is not as easy as it sounds. Florida’s corners must play big when matched up on Marcus Monk.
STATISTIC: Arkansas is 6-12 on field goals while UF is 3-12 this season.
How will it play out? The Gators will score first and play from ahead in this football game. Arkansas is not a great time of possession team and they don’t cause a lot of turnovers. UF can win both those phases to give them the edge in this game. I think Chris Leak will get to 300 yards in this game and UF will play it’s best third quarter since the LSU game. Arkansas will get a 100 yard rusher and may run for 200 yards in the game but they won’t throw for any yards and they won’t rip off more than one long run for a touchdown. I expect it to be a four quarter game, but give me the Gators 24-17.
Keep an eye on the plan to win? The Gators will probably lose the rushing battle this week, which means they must get better quarterback play (they will) and win the field position battle. The Gators can get field position by causing turnovers and forcing some three and outs. Keep an eye on Eric Wilbur as his punting could be a key. Florida’s Brandon James in the punt return game and Arkansas’s Felix Jones in the kickoff return game will be key for field position. I think once again close games come down to seniors and quarterbacks.
I will be in Miami for the FHSAA football finals on Sun Sports. Watch for a special SEC Title pre-game show on Saturday at 5 p.m. Join Whit Watson, Terry Norvelle, Todd Wright for all the latest analysis. I will see you on Sun Sports for the Gator Bowl preview special later in the month. Listen to the Brady Ackerman Show from 7-10 a.m. Monday through Friday on AM 1230 Gainesville and AM 900 (WMOP) Ocala. You can listen to the show on the web by going to http://www.wmop.com and clicking on the streaming link.