Sometimes, falling back on a cliché’ is the only way to explain the unexpected.
Addressing Arkansas 31, Florida 10, invoke the phrase “complete game.” Defense or offense; offense or defense, reader’s choice.
Both units were superb, making the Gators look like anything but a once-beaten team with the inside track to Atlanta for the SEC championship game and legitimizing the hopes of those that believe the Razorbacks will sweep November and win nine.
Alphabetically, defense — personnel changes and all — comes first.
Moved from inside to defensive end, Jeremiah Ledbetter provided textbook containment — the old-fashioned description of “setting the edge” — and part of the answer to the question coach Bret Bielema posed to defensive coordinator Robb Smith and staff when he asked “What are we going to do when they’re running the football.”
Everybody got the message.
Not listed on the two-deep, freshman lineman Austin Capps made a play for a loss. Criticized at times, linebacker Dwayne Eugene contributed an open-field tackle on a third down pass in the early going and was involved in an interception for Arkansas’ first touchdown.
On the Gators’ first nine possessions, the No. 11 team in the first College Football Playoff rankings threw two interceptions, punted six times, and had the clock expire at half. With 3:17 left in the third quarter, Florida had five first downs against a defense that gave up 150 points in losses to Texas A&M, Alabama, and Auburn.
Other numbers are just as startling. Running nine times in the first half, the Gators gained 19 yards against a group that allowed 543 yards rushing in the 56-3 loss to Auburn that left a bad taste in the mouths of fans and players and invigorated some critics of Bielema. Those people will be difficult to find this week.
In the pre-game, CBS analyst Aaron Taylor said the past few days in Fayetteville convinced him the Razorbacks were ready and the network’s sideline reporter shared that this was “man up week” for the Razorbacks. A believer in the mantra, walk-on Johnny Gibson was rewarded with his first start at guard.
Offensively, Arkansas was good enough against a unit that was No. 2 in the nation in total defense and scoring defense and led the SEC in a half-dozen categories.
Time of possession can be misleading. Not on Saturday. With less than seven minutes to play, Arkansas had more than doubled the Gators in that stat, a tribute to the skill players and, most of all, the offensive line. The group that couldn’t do a thing with the fronts of A&M, Alabama, and Auburn enabled the running game — the key to successful passing in Bielema’s offense — and Austin Allen was efficient with 15-of-26 for 243 yards.
Don’t overlook the contributions of offensive coordinator Dan Enos, whose use of the screen pass always seemed to dovetail with Florida’s aggressive rush — a mesh that resulted in a 43-yard reception by Devwah Whaley and other big plays.
Allen threw an interception for Florida’s only touchdown, but the son of a coach learned long ago not to get his head down and the junior made some nice throws — tight end Jeremy Sprinkle helped with one spectacular catch for 15 yards and lost his defender for 31 more — on the drive for Arkansas’ third touchdown. Allen demonstrated touch with just enough oomph on a 7-yard touchdown pass to reliable Drew Morgan near the back of the end zone for 21-7.
Arkansas’ offense produced 267 yards vs. Florida’s 104 in the first half and Rawleigh Williams and Whaley carrying 21 times for 111 yards contributed mightily to a 9:38 advantage in time of possession. Together, they wound up with 214 yards, 181 more than they netted against Auburn.
The outcome, coupled with Texas A&M’s surprising loss to Mississippi State, serves to further confuse where Arkansas, now 2-3 in conference, fits in the SEC West. Maybe, LSU will provide clarity in Fayetteville this week.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org