Kentucky Review / Arkansas Preview

Florida earned a workmanlike 24-7 win over Kentucky, the 27th consecutive defeat of the Mildcats.  Given all of the drama surrounding the first month of the season, including the recent loss of Dominique Easley, that was a solid effort put forth in the Commonwealth, controlling the action for almost the entire game and getting the road win – always something to be appreciated in the SEC.

Tyler Murphy performed well in his first career start, especially on the road.  Yes, that wasn’t a quality opponent, but he continues to show poise and leadership, and the offense can feed off of that as things get more difficult going forward.  His 11-11 start passing was a pleasant surprise, even with the safe throws.  Matt Jones claims he is only now feeling close to game-ready, and he showed flashes of what was expected by the staff with a very good performance.  The O-Line did a good job overall, but still shows it is not as proficient in pass-blocking, which will become a serious problem as the level of opponent increases in difficulty……good thing Murphy is mobile.  The WRs (again) weren’t utilized as much as hoped, but I think after the fast start that Muschamp and Pease decided to shut things down to an extent to try and keep some things off the film for future games.

The defense was solid, after a slow start on the opening drive.  Muschamp said after the game that Kentucky used their off week to put in some new things that weren’t on film, but the staff and players did a nice job of adjusting and shutting things down for the most part after that.  The loss of Easley was seen right away, as the interior run defense wasn’t as sturdy as before, and that will have to be addressed right away.  Fowler and Bullard generated some occasional pass pressure, and the secondary wasn’t really challenged seriously.  VH3 continues to show out as a true freshman at CB, and is already starting to get some attention regionally and nationally – the kid is a baller.

Special Teams really weren’t on display other than kickoff coverage.  We’ll have to wait until this Saturday to see how Christy responds to his punting struggles, as he has to elevate his play to help the team out going forward.  Hardin did convert his only FG attempt with a solid kick from the left hash.  Maybe the staff will need to remember that for the future.

It’s back to the Swamp for a game with Arkansas – only an occasional SEC opponent for the Gators.  This is a step up in competition, and could turn out to be a real challenge.  The Razorbacks have an effective offense led by QB Brandon Allen, freshman RB Alex Collins (from Miami) who is averaging over 100 yards per game, and sophomore RB Jonathan Williams at over 90 yards per game.  New head coach Bret Bielema prefers a strong running game based on his tenure at Wisconsin, and this will be the first serious challenge to the D-Line without Easley.  The Hog passing game shouldn’t be overlooked, though, as WR Javontee Herndon played quite a bit in the passing game developed by the fired Bobby Petrino.  TE Hunter Henry is proving to be a serious target as well, and the RBs are utilized as receivers quite often (something Florida needs to expand upon).  This is going to be a test for the entire Florida defense to try and limit Arkansas’ effectiveness and ball-control capability, to allow the Gator offense to nurse Murphy along and not have to get out of it’s comfort zone to either play catch-up or get into a scoring contest.

Arkansas’ defense has struggled to date, and hopefully that continues another week.  Florida simply does not have dynamic playmaking ability this season, so it will have to continue to be consistent and remain turnover-free to be successful.  Like most opponents going forward, I expect the Razorbacks to crowd the box and dare Murphy to pass.  Perhaps we’ll start to see some throws to the RBs this week to change things up, and the WRs have to continue to improve upon defeating coverage to give Murphy a fair chance.  The passing game has to start to prove itself a threat to give the tough opponents coming up something to think about.

Gator Nation needs to show up in force to protect home-field advantage, as the meat of the SEC schedule begins.  It will be a grind from now until season’s end for this team, and they need all the support they can get.  Playing this game at home should help Murphy, and the crowd can help inspire the defense to elevate it’s game.  I fully expect this contest to not be decided until the 4th quarter.  The offense has to limit turnovers going forward, as it simply is not good enough to overcome falling too far behind and hasn’t proven it can sustain drives almost exclusively with the passing game.  Time for a hostile nighttime crowd at the Swamp to help deliver a win.

Prediction:  Florida 24      Arkansas 20