The Florida Gators played under the lights in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the first time in nearly two years on Saturday night, hosting the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Gators were able to come away with a 30-10 victory to move to 4-1 (3-0 SEC) on the season.
Whether the Gators win or lose, there are things to learn in every aspect of the game. After each game the coaching staff will review the film and grade out each player. In a new series we will do the same, assigning a letter grade to the offense, defense, special teams and coaches.
Murphy had a great game statistically, finishing 16-of-22 for 240 yards and three touchdowns setting career highs for both passing yards and touchdowns while looking like his normal (through three games) cool, calm and collected self in the process. Murphy wasn’t perfect. There were plays, specifically a play where Murphy that he would like to take back when he was wrapped up by two Hog defenders and tried flinging a ball into open space to avoid a sack, but for the most part you see Murphy continuing to progress and take the offense along with him.
The player of the game has to be Solomon Patton. Patton caught six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Both of Patton’s touchdowns were short (12 yards or less) routes that Patton was able to turn up field and make people miss en route to the end zone.
Patton’s transformation from jet sweep specialist to playmaker is remarkable, a transformation that Patton credits to off-field work and film study.
“The offseason had a lot to do with it … just take the stuff that I learn inside of the film room and taking it over to the practice field and to the game,” Patton said.
There was much made of the Arkansas pass rush. The Razorbacks came into the contest with an SEC leading 15 sacks but managed just two. The line was not great — Murphy’s mobility and escapability saved them numerous times — but they held up better than any other offensive line has against Arkansas.
The Gators ran the ball 41 times for 115 yards. It was the ninth straight game that Florida has eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground but their measly 2.8 yards-per-carry average was the lowest since October 27, 2012 against Georgia (40-75, 1.88 ypc).
There was a true split between Matt Jones (17 carries) and Mack Brown (11 carries) on Saturday night but neither runner was able to get into a groove and get things going.
You can tip your cap to Arkansas. The Razorbacks defensive front was able to get a good push and really shut down the Gators’ running ability between the tackles. The Gators also were without Jonotthan Harrison for a good portion of the game which limits some of the power plays that Florida can run off tackle and affects the offensive line’s ability to get a push off of the snap.
Offense Grade: B
The Gators gained 355 yards and Tyler Murphy’s three passing touchdowns were the most by any Florida quarterback since Jeff Driskel had four last season against South Carolina.
Most important, the Gators protected the football. Saturday night was the first game all season that the Gators haven’t turned the ball over, which is key for the Gators moving forward. Protect the football on offense and the defense will keep you competitive no matter who is on the other sideline.
Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen is going to feel this game for a while. Florida was able to get a lead and forced Arkansas to play catch up. When the Arkansas offense turned one-dimensional, the defense smelled blood, pinned its ears back and got after the quarterback.
Officially, Florida had quarterback hurries and two sacks. However, Allen was never able to get into a rhythm and other than a 31-yard completion to tight end Hunter Henry, the defense shut down Arkansas’ passing attack, holding the Hogs to just 164 passing yards on the night.
Loucheiz Purifoy came into the game with zero career interceptions. That’s right, the future NFL defensive back had as many career interceptions as I did at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. That changed in the second quarter when Purifoy jumped an Allen pass and took his first career interception back to the house for six points.
Florida got gashed in the first quarter and that’s putting it nicely. The Gators defensive line got embarrassed in the first 15 minutes. Arkansas wasn’t doing anything fancy, nothing the Gators hadn’t seen on film or something that Florida wasn’t prepared for. The Razorbacks offensive line simply imposed their will during the first 15 minutes of football.
Arkansas ran the ball 11 times for 81 yards in the first quarter, 7.3 a clip. Something clicked for the Gators when the first period went into the books and it appeared that the defense made a conscious decision that enough was enough. Arkansas gained just 30 yards after the first quarter of play.
Thirty yards in three quarters of play for an offense that came into the game averaging 237 rushing yards a game is lock down. Florida held freshman sensation Alex Collins to just 54 yards on 13 carries, both season lows in carries and yards gained. Speaking of the Gators’ defense clamping down, Collins had four carries for 41 yards in the first quarter, while he could only muster 13 yards on his next nine carries.
Starting slow is becoming a trend for this Gator defense but you can’t deny how they have shut teams down in the second and third quarters and how they are able to close games out as well.
Defense Grade: A
The Gators have held 11 straight conference opponents to under 20 points. That’s the longest streak in the SEC with Alabama holding the next longest streak at one game.
This defense is something to behold. They’re fun. They play angry. They have swag. Enjoy watching this defense now because you’ll look back in five years and realize just how good they really were.
In the offseason all we heard were the names Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam, Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins, Omar Hunter and Josh Evans, all important cogs of last year’s defense that had to be replaced this year.
However, the biggest loss is clearly Caleb Sturgis.
Austin Hardin’s first and only field goal attempt of the game came out low and was blocked. Will Muschamp said that he could have blocked the kick himself and Hardin was banished to kickoffs.
His replacement — Brad Phillips — connected on his first field goal attempt (28-yards) but missed an extra point late in the game.
Needless to say Will Muschamp is not happy with his kickers right now and he really doesn’t have any reason to be.
There isn’t a player on Florida’s roster that is in a bigger funk than Kyle Christy.
To be fair, Christy had two punts that were downed inside the 20. While that is good, Christy also had a 16-yard punt.
That’s horrendous. There’s no way around it.
On the night Christy kicked six times for an average of 37 yards-per-punt. That’s 8.8 lower per kick than his average in 2012 and 2.45 yards shorter than his already lower than normal average this season.
Christy is in a funk and with the big boys of the SEC coming up on the schedule it’s time for him to wake up and return to the form that earned him pre-season All-American honors.
Special Teams Grade: F
Hardin was yanked from the game, Phillips missed an extra point and Christy not only had a 16-yard punt contribute to his sub 40-yard average. It’s so uncharacteristic for Christy and the Hardin-Phillips kicking competition doesn’t look good for Florida either.
Are we sure Sturgis doesn’t have any eligibility left?
Florida started a drive on its own eight late in the second quarter. Valdez Showers lost a yard on a carry and then the Gators tried a bubble screen, which almost resulted in a safety. Other than this poor offensive play calling series, the coaching staff did a good job getting their team ready to play today.
The Gators had good plans offensively and defensively and they were ready to play on Saturday night.
Coaching Grade: B