COVID season just keeps getting weirder.
With half of all scheduled SEC games — including Alabama-LSU — now canceled, all eyes are on the Hogs’ road trip to 6th-ranked Florida. Florida’s already been hit by the virus: head coach Dan Mullen tested positive last month and the Gators’ 41-17 win over Mizzou was delayed by one week over a small outbreak inside the program. The Hogs’ roster has avoided an outbreak so far, but the Razorbacks will be without coach Sam Pittman, who tested positive at the beginning of the week.
That leaves Barry Odom to coach the game, and a game that was already a free shot in a season full of them just became even more of a free shot. Florida arguably has the second-best offense in the SEC, so Odom probably didn’t want to add head coaching responsibilities to his already-difficult job as defensive coordinator for this game, but it is what it is.
Meet the Gators
(NOTE: Confused by any of these stats? Check out the advanced stats glossary.)
All rankings are out of 14 SEC teams.
The EV+ model isn’t optimistic. It’s going with Florida 34, Arkansas 18, giving the Hogs a chance to cover the 17.5-point spread but not much else. Arkansas’ best bet to keep this one close is a letdown game for the Gator offense and an inspired performance by Feleipe Franks.
When Florida has the ball
The Gators are coming off one of the biggest demolitions of a good defense that you’ll see. Kyle Trask completed 30 of 43 passes for 474 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-28 beatdown of Georgia in Jacksonville. Florida took advantage of elements of Georgia’s matchup defense, as SEC Network’s Jordan Rodgers lays out here:
DEATH BY 1,000 WHEEL ROUTES...— Jordan Rodgers (@JRodgers11) November 12, 2020
Here's how Florida was successful OVER & OVER with the SAME PLAY vs Georgia: pic.twitter.com/vsCZFQFL8u
Arkansas’ more traditional zone is less likely to be victimized by some of the stuff that Rodgers lays out here, but the bigger takeaway for Saturday is that Florida’s offensive coaches are really good and their offensive talent is overwhelming.
Florida comes out throwing on early downs (only Mississippi State runs it less on standard downs) and they are really, really good, boasting the SEC’s most efficient and most explosive standard downs offense. The Razorbacks have been really good in standard downs defense this year, but the Hogs’ inability to knock opponents off schedule (8th in leverage rate) is going to keep the Gators’ playbook open. That’s going to be the biggest concern Saturday.
The biggest problem is that, for the third straight week, the Hogs are facing an elite offensive line. Texas A&M victimized the Hogs, but Tennessee’s bad quarterback play allowed the Hogs to overcome a good line. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, Florida’s offense is more like Texas A&M than Tennessee.
The Hogs will probably need an interception or two to keep the lid on the Gator passing attack. Tennessee is the only opponent the Hogs have beaten without benefitting from any interceptions (the two against Tennessee didn’t actually affect the game: one was on fourth down and the other was when the clock was at zero).
Florida’s passing success is largely a product of good scheme. Trask is a fine quarterback, but he’s only 7th among SEC starters in overall accuracy and 6th in depth-adjusted completion percentage, according to data from SEC Stat Cat. This is a complete offense, though: Florida’s line is excellent at protecting Trask, and Trask has excellent receivers at his disposal.
A significant development to monitor is the status of Kyle Pitts, the nation’s most productive tight end, who was injured against Georgia. If he plays, he’s a potential soft zone buster, much like Jalen Wydermyer was for Texas A&M. Without him, it gets a little dicier for Florida, as the Hogs may have the ability to take away a lot of the downfield stuff the Gators are going to try. Florida’s backup tight end, Kemore Gamble, has looked good filling in for Pitts.
While Florida tends to be pass-heavy on early downs, the Gator run game is improved since last year and remains a complement to the run game.
The Florida run game isn’t very productive, but it is moderately efficient. The Gators don’t go backwards, though big runs are rare. Leading rusher Dameon Pierce has 221 yards at 4.5 per carry this season. If Florida is consistently getting 4-5 yards a pop like Tennessee was in the first half last week, they’ll stick to the run and bring Arkansas’ linebackers into run-pass conflicts. Otherwise, this phase of the game will be a nonfactor.
When Arkansas has the ball
Florida’s defense isn’t championship-level, which will cause them a problem against Alabama in the SEC Championship game. However, it’s really not that bad. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s unit allows too many explosive plays and can be torched by a capable passer.
Arkansas’ offense has looked really sharp on standard downs for two straight games after a disastrous start to the season in that facet. Florida’s defense is vulnerable there. The Hogs should stay ahead of the chains and generate a few explosive plays.
Arkansas’ ability to run the ball on early down RPOs will be very important. The Gators are actually decent (4th) at stopping line yards on standard downs rushing attempts.
The Hogs’ run game is still 14th in EVA per Rush despite two excellent weeks on the ground (the start to the season was THAT bad). Florida’s run defense is very vulnerable, worse than both Texas A&M and Tennessee. The Gators will allow a lot of efficient running and aren’t great at limiting big runs either.
If the Hogs gain the upper hand on the ground, it could help keep the edge rush in check and keep the Gator pass rush from getting to Franks.
Arkansas is down to dead-last in sack rate, but that’s a bit misleading. Protection isn’t amazing, but Franks takes a lot of “voluntary” sacks that only lose a yard or two. Against Tennessee, for example, Franks was not sacked for the game’s first 50 minutes and generally had plenty of time to throw against an above-average SEC pass rush. All three of the Vols’ sacks came while the Hogs were trying to beat Tennessee’s all-out edge rush and run out the clock. Kendal Briles was calling a lot of one-look RPOs and the instructions to Franks appear to have been to eat the ball if he didn’t hand off and the pass look wasn’t there.
Still, Florida’s pass rush is solid, and if Franks doesn’t have time, the offense won’t have a chance to keep up with the Gators.
Keys to the Game
- Frustrate Trask. Trask is a solid downfield passer who has excellent weapons. However, while Florida had a lot of fun attacking Georgia down the field, the same looks likely won’t be available against the Hogs. If the Gators get frustrated, they may try to force the ball. Arkansas’ secondary probably needs a couple picks to keep Florida from running away.
- Make the run a nonfactor. Florida’s run game is little more than a change of pace, though it is moderately efficient. If Florida is able to get an early lead and then an efficient run game going, this game could turn into a rout in a hurry. Limiting big runs is the minimum, but the Hogs will probably need a few run stuffs as well.
- Protect Franks. Grantham has always been known for his aggressive defenses, so the Hogs have to keep their quarterback upright to stay alive in a shootout.