In one of the last SEC games standing, Florida will take on Arkansas in the Swamp. Here are my three keys to the Gators getting a win.
Take care of business
Florida is the better team in this game. Arkansas is not so far away that it has no chance of winning, though. If the Gators come out flat a week after their big win, the Razorbacks are capable of pulling the upset.
The sports cliche then is that UF needs to take care of business this weekend. It’s worth noting because no one on this team has ever had business to take care of in this way outside of Brenton Cox while he was at Georgia two years ago.
The Gators have a handful of fifth-year seniors who were around in 2016 when the program last won the SEC East. None of them played in that season though, as the old redshirt rules were still in place.
Besides, Florida didn’t secure the division crown until the last conference game went final, and it was the hurricane-postponed thriller against LSU on November 19. The postponement meant it wasn’t a matter of beating inferior teams the rest of the way after defeating Georgia. That Florida team also blew its lead over the Bulldogs a week later anyway by no-showing in a 31-10 loss to — guess who? — Arkansas the following week.
It was in 2015 that Florida last was in this place. Upon defeating the Bulldogs, UF had merely to beat Vandy the following week to take care of business. It did so, to the uninspiring tune of 9-7 on a late field goal that followed a 12-yard punt.
Dan Mullen has never been in the driver’s seat of a division race in this way as a head coach. Even in 2014 when he rode upsets to spending a month at No. 1, he had a mid-November tilt against Alabama ahead of him. This is new territory for him too.
The Razorbacks are probably the toughest opponent left on the schedule, given the shambles the LSU defense has become and their loss of Myles Brennan for the year. Though improved, Arkansas is clearly not on UF’s level. The Gators need to stay focused and not act like the season’s over already.
Don’t let Franks beat them
Feleipe Franks has gotten a lot of praise this season for his play. I’d argue that Arkansas can thank none other than Mullen and Brian Johnson for that, as they brought him up out of the deep hole he was in after 2017. Franks was up-and-down in 2018 but finished well after his benching against Missouri. He started 2019 well too except in the turnover department, as interceptions against Miami and a pick and lost fumble against Kentucky held back the offense.
Franks has improved over that bad start a year ago, throwing just three picks in twice as many games and only losing one fumble so far. His stat line is pretty close to what it was in 2018, though he’s hitting a lot of short stuff with his yards per attempt about the same even as his completion percentage is way up versus two years ago.
Franks is a good fit for the Kendal Briles offense he’s running in Fayetteville. That scheme spreads the field the widest of any the major college level has seen, often having receivers at or outside both sets of numbers. There are some long throws as a result, and having a cannon of an arm is a plus. There also aren’t a lot of complex reads, so it eliminates one of the things he struggled with at Florida.
His legs are still a real factor. With sacks taken out, he’s the third-leading rusher in attempts, second-leading in yards, and tops in yards per attempt. He does take a lot of sacks, though, as he still likes to extend plays instead of throw it away when pressured.
The scouting report is as it’s always been: get in his face a lot and don’t let receivers run free behind the defense where he can burn you with his arm strength. The former shouldn’t be a huge issue, as the Razorbacks’ line is nothing special. The latter could be, though, as UF let plenty of Georgia targets run free a week ago. Franks can connect where Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis could not. If the Gators neutralize Franks, that’ll take care of a lot because he’s about the best thing the offense has going for it.
Beyond that, the Gators need to not let the return of their former teammate rile them up too much. They can acknowledge him before and after, but between the whistles, he’s got to be just another visiting player. If Florida’s defense gets undisciplined going after him, Franks’s big arm and long strides can punish them for it.
Stay on the attack
The Razorback defense has improved under Barry Odom. The pass defense stands out the most, as it was awful under the prior regime but is quite good now. Four of their six opponents have managed fewer than six yards per attempt, and the Hogs lead the conference with 12 interceptions.
Matt Corral supplied fully half of those picks in a single game, but they get a lot of them because they play with a lot of defensive backs on the field. Odom is pulling on his time as a Big 12 defensive coordinator to combat the suddenly pass-happy SEC. And, despite playing nickel (five DBs) and especially dime (six DBs) a ton, Arkansas is respectably in the middle of the conference pack in sacks.
Now, we’ll see if they can hold up against Kyle Trask and the UF passing attack. Those teams the Razorbacks held to under five yards per attempt were Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Tennessee. The Rebels are the only competent pass attack of that bunch, but they run almost the same offense as Arkansas does from the brother-in-law of Briles, Jeff Lebby. It’s what the Hogs see in practice every day, basically.
Kellen Mond and Texas A&M shredded some pork for ten yards per attempt with three touchdowns against no interceptions. And while Arkansas did fairly well stopping Bo Nix through the air in their shoulda-been-a-win against Auburn, they did so at the expense of giving up more than six yards per carry on the ground. They’ve yet to put together a complete defensive performance against a good offense.
Mullen is not averse to going conservative with play calling — see the second half of the Georgia game compared to the first — and he’ll be tempted to run a lot against five and six defensive back sets. If the Gators have success with the run, they should do it, but I would recommend against doing it at the expense of attacking with the pass.
The burden of proof should be on anyone finding a way to slow Trask, not on UF in trying to soften the Arkansas defense. It wouldn’t shock me in the least if Mullen tries to shorten the game with controlled drives and running, and the Razorbacks will probably try the same. If we’re in and out in under three hours, it won’t be a shock.
It also wouldn’t be Florida football in 2020. With games getting postponed or canceled with increasing frequency as COVID-19 grows exponentially nationwide, it’s a real question how many more times we’ll get to see this Gator team play. As long as it can keep going, I want to see the offense attack and be dynamic. I don’t want to see a lot of 3rd & 7 plays after a pair of ineffective runs.
UF’s offense shouldn’t be afraid of anything in this contest until Arkansas gives it reason to be. Let’s see Trask sling it around the park again.