The Florida Gators are 6-1 and number 11 in this season’s first College Football Playoff Rankings, released on Tuesday. Many are using the Gators as the demarcation between teams that can make the playoff and those already eliminated. At the same time, their schedule to date is underwhelming. It consists of teams with offensive efficiency ratings all worse than 50th in the country. On top of that, Florida’s only win against a team above .500 came against Kentucky. But none of that really matters, the Gators control their own destiny in the SEC East and the playoff hunt and must take things one week at a time. This week, that means getting ready for a cross-division road trip to Fayetteville to take on Brett Bielema’s pro-style attack. Let’s take a look at this week’s Florida Gators vs. Arkansas Razorbacks – 2016 Preview.
Florida Gators vs. Arkansas Razorbacks – 2016 Preview
When Florida has the Ball
Arkansas surrendered 543 rushing yards to Auburn in their last game. That’s the most an FBS team has allowed this season and the most ever in an SEC game. It’s not like most of those came in garbage time either as Auburn gained 183 rushing yards by the end of the first quarter.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the Gators will have all four of their running backs ready to go this week. Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine handled the load against Georgia just fine. However, having Mark Thompson and Jordan Cronkrite back means Florida has four guys capable of putting up 100 yards behind an O-Line that looks like it’s finally coming around after some rough stretches earlier in year.
Scarlett will deservedly get the first opportunity, but don’t be surprised to see Head Coach Jim McElwain give the other backs chances early and ride a hot hand if one manifests.
The Gators’ red zone efficiency is noteworthy, as they score just 72.4% of the time inside the 20-yard line, ranking 122nd in the FBS. The O-Line’s struggles have certainly contributed to the issue here, but the emergence of Tyrie Cleveland should help McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier space the field and create options in the passing game to keep defenses honest.
Cleveland hauled in a 46-yard deep ball against Missouri, and if he can emerge as a legitimate threat on the perimeter, opposite Antonio Callaway, it will do wonders for Del Rio and the Gators’ passing attack.
What’s Up with Luke Del Rio?
In the preseason I predicted Luke Del Rio to, “look calm and collected, make quick reads, clean throws, and good decisions while solidifying himself as the Gators’ leader for the next three seasons.”
He’s certainly lost his poise and made some bad decisions after returning from an MCL-sprain, failing to fulfill my prediction. YET.
The O-Line just hasn’t helped him feel comfortable after the injury, and it’s shown. He’s panicked under pressure and subsequently made bad throws and been picked off four times in two games. The stop and start nature of Florida’s October hasn’t done him any favors either, with the postponement of the LSU game and the off week before Georgia. While the extra practice reps certainly help, they don’t compare to game reps Del Rio needs to really shake off the rust from a knee injury. He should have those reps under his belt now and be able to get the offense on track.
This will be the week the O-Line and Del Rio turn the corner.
When Arkansas has the Ball
The Gators held Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to 22 yards and prompted them to call a meeting with Jim Chaney, their offensive coordinator, on Monday to discuss their concerns going forward. And Georgia was the first team to score against the Gators in the first quarter this season. Take a moment to let that soak in.
Nick Chubb and Sony Michel went to Jim Chaney on Monday to talk about the running game concerns. Details:https://t.co/7HLYpgYpnJ
— Seth Emerson (@SethEmersonAJC) November 2, 2016
Florida’s defense hasn’t faced a truly potent offense yet, but they are making teams implode. Arkansas combined for 98 rushing yards against Alabama and Auburn, and it’s unlikely they top 100 on the Gators. Rawleigh Williams III led the SEC in rushing prior to their game against Auburn, but he and Devwah Waley aren’t as good a duo as Chubb and Michel, who failed to produce against the Gators. While Arkansas’ O-Line is massive, the largest in the SEC, the Florida defensive line is too athletic and will overmatch them.
Jarrad Davis — Butkus Award semifinalist — and Joey Ivie played last week at less than 100% so they’re conditions have naturally improved. Meanwhile, Florida will see the return of Bryan Cox Jr., a senior defensive lineman and NFL talent who broke his hand in a freak accident warming up for Missouri. A healthy defense spells trouble for Williams, Waley, and quarterback Austin Allen.
Allen has thrown at least one interception in each of his last three games, including three at home against Alabama. Expect for Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson to take some chances going after the ball when Arkansas decides to throw.
While the Gators may not be an offensive juggernaut, they’ll certainly be able to run the ball, control the clock, and keep that ferocious defense well-rested. Look for Luke Del Rio to show strides as the Gators handle an overmatched Razorback squad that will be hard-pressed to do anything on offense.