Saturday, October 4, 2008

Florida 38, Arkansas 7

File this under "Good News/Bad News."

The good news was pretty abundant. Most impressive was Florida's offense, which had its most balanced and best overall performance of the season. Four players (Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin) received significant carries. Two players (Rainey and Demps) went over 100 yards. Eight players caught passes; Louis Murphy led the receiving corps with five receptions for 70 yards, Harvin and Brandon James both caught three, Carl Moore, Deonte Thompson and Aaron Hernandez all caught three and Demps and Riley Cooper chipped in with one apiece.

The Gators finally pivoted away from their "Tebow-Harvin-Harvin-Tebow-Harvin-Hernandez-Tebow-Tebow-Harvin" offense. Percy accounted for only 74 of Florida's 514 total yards. Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen opened up the offense to take advantage of the bevy of playmakers Florida possesses.

Demps scored on a 36-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to push Florida's lead to 14-0. His was a pretty simple run: find a hole and run as fast as you can through it. When you're an Olympics-caliber sprinter, that works pretty well. Rainey put the game away in the fourth quarter with an extraordinary run that rivaled any of work of art crafted by Harvin during his tenure in Gainesville. Rainey bedeviled a couple Razorbacks with a spin move and simply blew away the remaining defenders. Demps would add one more long touchdown run to give the Gators their winning margin; it came late in the fourth quarter after I left the sports bar. I'm sure it was quite lovely.

Tebow was 17 of 26 for 217 yards and two touchdowns; he looked more comfortable than he did in any other game. He did throw his first interception in 204 attempts, but even that was less a matter of poor decision-making (he had Harvin streaking down the sideline) and more a situation where he just didn't put enough air on the ball to loft it over a linebacker.

He felt comfortable because UF's devastated offensive line did an admirable job in less than ideal circumstances. Left guard Jim Tartt was out with the same shoulder injury that's been tormenting him since 2006. Tartt's two back-ups, Maurice Hurt and Marcus Gilbert, were also out. All of that pushed redshirt sophomore Carl Johnson, a former big-time recruit, natural tackle and videogame star, into the position. He did his job, as did the rest of the line. Tebow was sacked only once, and I can remember only one other play where he faced significant pressure.

Jonathan Phillips nailed yet another difficult field goal.

So, the bad news. All of the above is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Arkansas is really damn bad. The Razorbacks' defense was ranked 65th in the country coming into the game. By comparison, their hated rival Arkansas State ranked 52nd.

But hey, the Gators still shredded that defense. More troubling was UF's relative inability to handle Arkansas' 73rd-ranked offense. The Razorbacks scored only once and put up a respectable 361 total yards, but Florida's defense didn't play as well as those statistics. Diminutive Arkansas running back Michael Smith gashed UF 20 times for 133 yards and a touchdown. They weren't able to tackle him for a loss once. That's not terribly encouraging with LSU and Charles Scott next on the schedule.

Casey Dick was 24 of 38 for 220 yards. While the Gators recorded an impressive four sacks, those were the only four plays where they were able to pressure the heretofore small-in-stature Dick. More often than not Arkansas' Dick was unmolested as he sat comfortably in the pocket, patiently waiting for a receiver to come open across the middle.

And the penalties! Oy, the penalties. Arkansas was flagged nine times for 75 yards, and several of those penalties killed their momentum on big drives. But that stat makes the Razorbacks look like saints compared to Florida. The Gators were penalized 12 times for 110 yards.

On one particularly infuriating set of plays, the Gators managed to commit a penalty on at least four consecutive snaps. Florida started its first drive of the second quarter on its own one-yard line. It took the Gators just four plays to push the ball to the 39-yard line.

Then the Gators were penalized for holding. First and 20 on the 29-yard line.

The Gators were penalized for illegal formation. First and 25 on the 24-yard line.

The Gators were penalized for holding. First and 35 on the 14-yard line.

Shockingly, Florida wasn't able to convert. But in a miraculous stroke of luck, Michael Smith fumbled the ensuing punt, giving the ball to Florida on the Arkansas 16-yard line.

The Gators were penalized for illegal hands to the face. First and 25 from the 31-yard line.

The Gators were penalized for a false start. First and 30 from the 36-yard line.

Demps bailed out his teammates with his first touchdown run, but LSU and Georgia aren't going to give up 36-yard runs to true freshmen.

Still, road games against unranked SEC West opponents have historically given the Gators fits. You'll take a 31-point victory every day. The only important downside to the game was another potential injury to Harvin, who sprained his ankle in the first quarter, played the rest of the game and sort of limped around the field at times. If he's not at 100 percent, the Gators have little chance of beating LSU.

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