After consecutive games against teams coming off a bye week, Arkansas gets the chance to see what the feels like against Florida, a team coming off a rivalry win over Georgia.
Arkansas hasn’t beaten Florida since the 1982 Bluebonnet Bowl, and the Gators (6-1) are the only SEC team Arkansas hasn’t beaten since joining the league in 1992 (that said, Arkansas is 0-4 against Texas A&M since they joined in 2012).
As much as Hog fans would like to think that a bye week could boost Arkansas’ chances, unless said bye week also brought major upgrades to the offensive line, Arkansas still has some serious disadvantages in this one. Sports talk radio in the state this week has, once again, been filled by national pundits coming on and picking Arkansas to win, and I’m not really sure where they’re seeing a win. Florida is really good, folks, although they are not without weaknesses.
- Incredibly talented and fundamentally sound all over the defense
- Very active linebackers and secondary
- Excellent at kicking and punting
- Unimpressive quarterback play
- Running game is decently effective, but generates almost no big plays
- Limited weapons at receiver outside of Callaway
When Florida has the ball
I discussed what’s wrong with the defense in my bye week post. I was far from the only one to notice Deatrich Wise’s struggles against the run, and on this week’s depth chart, Wise is now mentioned as an “OR” with JaMichael Winston. So it seems that embattled defensive coordinator Robb Smith is aware of the problem, but I’m not sure it can be fixed this season. Many games are won in the off-season, and it’s becoming abundantly clear that Arkansas’ defense lost this off-season.
The good news is that Florida’s offense is a significant step down from, well, every Power 5 offense Arkansas has faced this season. Here’s how they rank, per S&P+:
- Alabama (3rd), 49 points
- Ole Miss (6th), 30 points
- Louisiana Tech (8th), 20 points (of note: La Tech played without its starting QB)
- Auburn (11th), 56 points
- Texas A&M (23rd), 42 points
- TCU (32nd), 28 points in regulation
- Florida (71st)
So the Gators are nearly 40 spots lower than TCU, the worst Power 5 offense Arkansas has faced this season. The Gators are closer to Texas State (128th, 3 points) than to Alabama, Ole Miss, or Auburn.
So there is some hope for the Hog defense.
The Hog defensive front, a huge letdown this season, may actually be able to hold its own here. Florida is pretty good at protecting its quarterback, but doesn’t generate many big plays and is a decidedly mediocre rushing team.
- Jordan Scarlett, 93 rushes, 468 yards, 5.0 yards per carry
- Lamical Perine, 63 rushes, 333 yards, 5.3 yards per carry
- Mark Thompson, 57 rushes, 262 yards, 4.6 yards per carry
Decent yards-per-carry averages for all three backs, but none have an opportunity rate of 40% (Rawleigh Williams III, running behind a suspect line, is at 40% exactly). The Gators are better at short-yardage runs (16th power success rate) than big gainers (82nd in opportunity rate, 125th in Rushing isoPPP).
Florida works from a one-back offense, usually splitting two or three receivers and a tight end or two. They’ll try to establish the run on early downs (55.7% run rate on standard downs) and they are best when throwing off play-action on standard downs.
Basically, if the running backs play a major role for Florida in this game, Arkansas is probably getting blown out.
- Luke Del Rio, 57.9% completions, 1,129 yards, 6.4 yards per attempt
- Antonio Callaway, WR, 43 targets, 441 yards, 10.3 yards per target
- Brandon Powell, WR, 35 targets, 218 yards, 6.2 yards per target
- DeAndre Goolsby, TE, 39 targets, 216 yards, 5.5 yards per target
- Tyrie Cleveland, WR, 14 targets, 137 yards, 9.8 yards per target
From an efficiency standpoint, Callaway is the one-man show in Gainesville. Stopping him is key to stopping Florida’s offense. Del Rio, son of Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, is serviceable but far from elite. He missed a couple games earlier with an injury but is back. He’s undefeated as the starter, albeit against suspect competition (Kentucky is arguably Florida’s best win this season).
I’ve written quite a bit about how Arkansas’ defense does a good job of taking away opponents’ top outside wide receiver. This has, since 2014, given Arkansas a consistent advantage against offenses that only have one reliable target in the passing game. This is another one of those games.
Overall, I have to think that if Arkansas can stop the run, the Hogs can keep Florida from scoring very many points.
When Arkansas has the ball
This season, it’s Alabama, Michigan, and Florida on defense, and then everybody else. The Gators have been outstanding on that side of the ball this season and present a formidable challenge.
Oddly, in a game where Florida is a huge favorite, there is only one matchup panel that overwhelmingly favors the Gators. Here it is, and this is why Florida is such a big favorite. Arkansas has a very good chance of taking away Florida’s advantages in all other facets of the game, but I’m not sure how the Hogs can overcome this.
- Jordan Sherit, DE, 6’4, 254, 16.5 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks
- Jabari Zuniga, DE, 6’3, 245, 14.0 tackles, 7.0 TFLs, 5.0 sacks
- Caleb Brantley, DT, 6’2, 297, 10.5 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1.0 sack
- Joey Ivie, DT, 6’3, 301, 6.0 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks
The Gators will rotate several linemen (Sherit, the leading tackler among defensive linemen, isn’t even listed as a co-starter, and Florida has an “OR” designation at both defensive end spots). Cece Jefferson (12.0 tackles), Bryan Cox (11.5 tackles), and Keivonnis Davis (5.0 tackles) are among the other linemen that will play.
- Jarrad Davis, MLB, 6’2, 238, 39.5 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks
- Alex Anzalone, WLB, 6’3, 241, 31.0 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks
- Daniel McMillian, SLB, 6’1, 223, 4.5 tackles, 0 TFLs, 0 sacks
Davis and Anzalone are very active and will present major problems to Arkansas’ ability to run the ball. Hog fullback Hayden Johnson has had mixed results blocking against good linebackers this season; tight end Jeremy Sprinkle has fared better.
McMillian is listed as the starter at strongside linebacker, but he doesn’t have many stats accumulated this season, so I’m not sure if he’ll actually be the guy when the Gators roll out three linebackers. Freshmen David Reese (9.5 tackles) and Kylan Johnson (6.5 tackles) could also see the field.
- Marcus Maye, S, 29.0 tackles, 5 PBUs, 1 interception
- Nick Washington, S, 19.5 tackles, 0 PBUs, 1 interception
- Teez Tabor, CB, 9.5 tackles, 1 PBU, 4 interceptions
- Quincy Wilson, CB, 7.5 tackles, 3 PBUs, 3 interceptions
Florida’s opponents are completing just 39.3% of their passes this season, tops in the NCAA. There is an important caveat: Josh Dobbs completed 50% for 316 yards against Florida, and most the rest of the quarterbacks Florida has faced this season have been awful.
Still, these statistics are opponent-adjusted, showing how Florida has destroyed bad quarterback play this year. Kentucky’s Drew Barker was 2 of 10 for 10 yards and three interceptions. North Texas’ Mason Fine was 6 of 22 for 66 yards, a pick, and six sacks. Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur was 9 of 25 for 82 yards with one pick and two sacks. Georgia’s Jacob Eason was 15 of 33 for 143 yards and two sacks.
So even if Arkansas is able to protect Austin Allen (highly unlikely), the Hogs may still struggle to get a receiver open against this defense. Hoping for some big plays is probably the best bet here.
Keys to the game
- Force some three-and-outs. The defense has to play its best game of the season, period. If it doesn’t, Florida should win easily. Stopping the Gators from scoring might not be enough, since Arkansas’ offense is going to struggle to drive the ball, so the defense needs to force three-and-outs to set the offense up in decent field position.
- No turnovers, and hope for some big plays. The Hogs likely can’t drive the ball against Florida, at least not more than one or two times all game. The best hope is big plays. Florida can be prone to giving them up: they’re 116th in the nation Passing Downs isoPPP+. So in obvious passing situations, when they get burned (not often), they get burned big. In the Alabama preview, I pointed out that the Tide had a similar flaw, and Arkansas’ offense exploited with surprising effectiveness to the tune of 400 passing yards, mostly on big plays.
- Stop the run. It’s asking a lot to stop the run with this defense, but surely some problems have been fixed during the bye week, right? If Florida can run the ball, they can string together enough drives to win even if Austin Allen plays well. Arkansas’ pass defense is more than capable of holding up against the Gators’ offense, especially if Florida is one-dimensional.
Also, because I thought it was interesting, I’m bringing back my Rankings-versus-Points charts that have proved accurate several times in the last couple of seasons (Mizzou and Kansas State last season, Ole Miss this season). There results are pretty interesting:
If this holds, Arkansas will score 19 points, which I think is optimistic. If the Hogs do manage 19 points, there’s a very good chance they’ll win this game. Especially considering...
...Florida is only projected to score 20. These two charts are expecting a much closer game (20 to 19) than most other metrics. For those wondering, I ran these charts before the Auburn game and got Auburn winning 38 to 26.
Because of the charts, I’ll set the Minimum Points Necessary For Victory at 20 for this week. Go Hogs!