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October 2, 2013

Control freaks





Florida likes to be in control.

The Gators rank 70th in the nation in offensive yards per game (403.0) and are 97th in passing (191.8). The rushing numbers are solid (211.3) and rank seventh in the Southeastern Conference, but the overall yardage output is not anywhere near prolific. The Gators are second-to-last in the SEC in yards per play at 5.6 per snap.

The secret is that's they are fine with that. Florida is steady on offense and rates highly in the stats that really matter to them. Their 51.7 third-down conversion rate is fourth in the SEC. They just keep trucking down the field.

Combine what they do on offense with the fact that the UF defense has limited opponents to just 46 first downs and have allowed just 17.8 percent of third downs to be converted and you have a team that controls the ball a nation-leading 38.58 minutes per game. Florida's game management numbers are off the charts.

"That's what we want," Arkansas defensive tackle Robert Thomas said after Wednesday's practice. "This team is more of a come downhill, we want to bang with y'all. That's what we love to do, anyway.

"Our coaches have a great rotation plan for us, so we don't really worry about that part. Everybody's going to be fresh."

That means opposing offenses have possessed the ball for just over 21 minutes during the one-hour game clock. Ask Kentucky about it after their seven-possession, seven-point, 47-play showing against Florida last weekend. That touchdown, by the way, came on a fake field goal.

Opportunities for Arkansas

Florida has left the door open for lesser talented teams by turning the ball over 10 times, which is the second-most in the conference. They also rank 11 out of 14 teams in penalties and penalty yardage.

While they have won convincingly this season in three of four games, the scores don't jump off the page. Florida has scored more than 24 points only once in the 31-17 win over Tennessee. Last year, Florida played close games with Bowling Green and Louisiana-Lafayette. They were projected as clear favorites over Louisville in the Orange Bowl but lost 33-23. They are very good, and they are double-digit favorites, but they are not invincible.

"They're very multiple in what they do," UA defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. "They're a combination of pro-style, downhill power running attack and spread quarterback run-game stuff. They've got a lot of trades, shifts and motions, a lot of window dressing with different formations that cause you to think about where you're supposed to be and think about the adjustments after they create a new formation."

Not that Matt Jones

Gators sophomore tailback Matt Jones is coming off a 28-carry, 176-yard performance against Kentucky. At 6-foot-2, 226 pounds, he has the ability to beat defenders a lot of ways. Jones committed to Florida just weeks after national signing day for the class ahead of him over offers from most of the top programs in the southeast and beyond, including Wisconsin when Bret Bielema was there and Arkansas when he was not.

"He's a physical runner," Ash said. "He's a downhill guy. Physical at the point of attack. He's got speed to beat you, he's got power to run you over, so he's a good back."

While it is tough to judge anything after Arkansas faced the escape artist last weekend, the fact of the matter is the Razorback defensive line has been good this season. A big part of that is due to the surprising play of redshirt freshman Darius Philon.

"He's come a long way," Thomas said. "He's a great player, and with him being only a freshman, the sky's the limit for him.

"Philon's really fast. Really fast kid. He came here as a D-end. He's still got that speed, just a little bigger."

Big game for linebackers

Aside from senior Jarrett Lake, the linebackers have been an overall inconsistent bunch. Arkansas needs junior college transfer Martrell Spaight and sophomore Otha Peters to start making a move. Spaight was a late arrival this summer and Peters is coming off a broken wrist. They are the two biggest hitters at linebacker.

"They've got to play a little bit harder. We expect a lot more out of them, and they've got to continue to give us that," UA linebackers coach Randy Shannon said. "They're playing in games now. They're giving us an opportunity to win. Like anything those guys have to keep getting better and continue to progress on our defense and learn a little bit more."

Murphy gets his shot

New UF starting quarterback Tyler Murphy was offered by Florida when Will Muschamp was not at Florida, but he is the starting quarterback now that Jeff Driskel is out for the season with a broken leg. Murphy was not a super-recruit like Jones or Driskel. He was a two-star out of Connecticut who was headed to Temple, but former UF coach Urban Meyer offered him in late January just before national signing day.

"I don't see a lot of Johnny Manziel back there, but he's definitely mobile," UA defensive end Trey Flowers said. "He can hurt you with his feet, most definitely. Just understanding the rush lanes once again and the ratio on the quarterback."

In relief of Driskel, Murphy helped the Gators to the win over the Volunteers while completing eight of 14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown to go with 84 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushes.

In his first start last weekend at UK, he was precise in going 15 of 18 passing for 156 yards (83.3 percent) with a touchdown and an interception. He also chipped in seven carries for 36 yards and a rushing touchdown. The Wildcats have limped out to a 1-3 start this season, so while they may not be the best measuring stick there is not much film on Murphy to go by for this week.

"He played in the Kentucky game, he's played a little bit in the Tennessee game," Ash said. "Looked like they were very similar game plans. But I would venture to say probably a little bit more quarterback run game in the Kentucky game (with Murphy)."

Physical Gator OL

The Florida offensive line is asked to do a lot of the same things as Arkansas', and they feature two seniors, a junior and two sophomores who average 303 pounds across the line. The player that brings the average down by carrying only 280 pounds also brings down the overall experience, but true sophomore D.J. Humphries was ranked the No. 2 overall prospect in the nation in 2012.

As for the others, it's an experienced bunch. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Moore and redshirt senior Jonotthan Harrison were four-star recruits. Moore was a starter at Nebraska before transferring. Harrison has 32 starts under his belt. Guard Max Garcia is a Maryland transfer and redshirt senior guard Jon Halapio has logged 38 career starts.

Passing game options

Junior tight end Clay Burton is there to block, and the tight end position has not been featured at all this season. The running backs have had limited roles in as pass-catchers, though Jones did have three catches for 20 yards last weekend.

The Gators spread it around to several receivers, and while there is not a big-time receiver on the team, senior Trey Burton, who leads UF with 20 catches for 226 yards and a touchdown, is probably the guy to watch.

Gaines and Turner

While Florida is multiple on offense, the numbers clearly show they thrive when they are running it well. There will be some option attack, but they also like the power game. The Hogs went almost exclusively with a nickel formation last weekend, and that formation moves Rohan Gaines from strong safety to the nickel and puts Alan Turner at strong. Gaines was the No. 1 strong safety and nickel before an injury set him back. He was back to full speed last weekend.

"It's still undecided," Ash said. "Alan Turner's done a great job back there. Had a lot of tackles last week. He's made a lot of plays for us. Rohan is healthy and he's getting a lot more reps, so it's good competition throughout the week, and we'll decide a starter later."

"Right now, we're splitting time," Gaines said. "It's a competition because I had the injury," Gaines said. "I don't like anything given to me. Coach Ash is not going to give anything to me, so I have to work my way back up. We're splitting time right now.

"I pride myself on being a hardnosed player, a player that'll go hit you," Gaines said. "It felt great to be back for one. I was energized, and it was just a good feeling."

Up next

The Hogs are expected to conclude Thursday's practice at approximately 5:50 p.m. Arkansas and Florida will square off at 7 p.m. (ET) in Ben Hill-Griffin Stadium. It will be the first night game in 'the Swamp' since 2011.


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