Despite looking shaky early, the No. 18/19 Florida Gators (4-1, 3-0 SEC) stood strong defensively and used some big plays on both sides of the ball to complete a 30-10 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-3, 0-2 SEC) on Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
The Gators gave up more rushing yards in the first quarter than it did in any full game in 2013 but tightened the reigns over the final three quarters, holding the visitors to three points over the last 47:09 of the game.
Meanwhile, Florida redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy continued to flash improvement as a signal caller, completing 16-of-22 passes for career-highs of 240 yards and three touchdowns.
Improving to 9-1 all-time against the Razorbacks, the Gators have won nine-straight games in the series dating back to 1995.
Arkansas opened the contest by gashing Florida in the running game, picking up 48 yards on the ground in its first two series, the same amount UF gave up in four quarters to Kentucky last week. One play after Hogs running back Alex Collins exploded for a 28-yard run, the Gators made their first huge defensive play of the game.
Florida junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy rushed in on a blitz, strip-sacking QB Brandon Allen and forcing a fumble that was recovered by redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor. UF was unable to capitalize, however, as redshirt freshman Austin Hardin kicked a 48-yard field goal attempt into the line of scrimmage for a block.
With the momentum in its favor, Arkansas responded with an eight-play, 64-yard drive that included six rushes for a total of 38 yards on the ground. After being stopped at the line of scrimmage, Hogs RB Jonathan Williams reversed field to score a four-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.
The Gators answered back with a 12-play, 55-yard drive led by three big completions from Murphy but was forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal by redshirt senior Brad Phillips, who replaced Hardin as the field goal kicker.
Five plays into the ensuing drive, Purifoy made his second explosive play of the contest. He registered his first career interception by picking off Allen at Arkansas’ 42-yard line and returning it all the way for a touchdown, putting Florida ahead 10-7 with 11:11 left in the first half.
UF’s defense strengthened over the final two series of the half, giving up just 16 total yards on nine plays. The Gators almost failed to receive their final possession of the first 30 minutes when Purifoy appeared to muff a punt and turn the ball over. Instead, kick-catch interference (a 15-yard penalty) was called on the Razorbacks.
Florida started its final possession of the first 30 minutes with 1:42 remaining and appeared to be out of gas while facing 3rd-and-12 at their own 49-yard line. Instead, Murphy hit senior wide receiver Solomon Patton on a strike across the middle that Patton took the rest of the way for a 51-yard touchdown.
Deferring possession until the second half, the Gators increased their lead to 24-7 on their next drive. After moving 37 yards on six plays, Murphy hit Patton on a slant that the receiver took 38 yards into the end zone, dodging a would-be tackler on the way.
Florida was not as successful on its next drive, stalling near midfield. Things only got worse for the Gators as redshirt senior center Jonotthan Harrison was dealt an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and subsequently ejected for the game after apparently pushing a referee.
The mistakes compounded for UF as junior punter Kyle Christy shanked a rugby-style kick that went out of bounds at UA’s 44. Purifoy then committed pass interference, and Allen moved his team down the field with a 30-yard pass to Collins. The Razorbacks settled for a 30-yard field goal, reducing their deficit to a pair of touchdowns.
Arkansas nearly got the ball back on the ensuing kickoff, surprising Florida with an on-side kick and easily recovering it. Unfortunately for the Hogs, three players were ahead of the kick and an offsides penalty negated the big play.
Midway through the fourth quarter the Gators nearly registered another big turnover when sophomore Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. hit Allen on his blindside, sacking him and forcing a fumble. An offsides penalty on junior defensive tackle Darious Cummings negated the big play, but an unnecessary roughness flag on the Razorbacks still pushed them back to their 13-yard line.
Arkansas failed to move the ball on three downs and punted away to Florida, which got a 17-yard return by Purifoy. Five plays later, the Gators jumped ahead 30-10 when Murphy found redshirt sophomore RB Valdez Showers with an inside shovel pass for a nine-yard touchdown. Phillips shanked the extra point.
The Razorbacks had one last chance to score on their final series of the game, moving 72 yards on 16 plays – with some help from Florida redshirt junior LB Ronald Powell, who committed two 15-yard penalties on the drive – but were stopped short on 4th-and-Goal at the Gators’ three-yard line.
UF held on for its third SEC win of the season and third-straight victory over a head coach in his first year at a new program. Since falling to Miami on Sept. 7, Florida has outscored opponents 85-37.
The Gators will face a top-ranked opponent for the first time this season next Saturday when they travel to Baton Rouge, LA, to take on the No. 11/10 LSU Tigers. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. with the contest scheduled to aoir live on CBS.
Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press