GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To a staunch believer in field-position football, Arkansas appeared to be staring square at a tie with Florida, maybe even taking a lead into the dressing room.
After all, Florida was punting from its own 2 and Arkansas might need no more than one first down to bring on Zach Hocker to kick for 10-10.
In less than 2 1/2 minutes, the complexion of Saturday’s game changed. Instead of putting the squeeze on the Gators, maybe shaking their confidence, and requiring Florida’s offense to impress in the second half, Arkansas had to play from two scores behind against one of the top defenses in the country.
On the attack and fret-free, Florida’s unit was way too much for the Razorbacks during the final 30 minutes. Arkansas ran for 81 yards in the first quarter against a defense that was allowing a nation-best average of 53.5 yards per game. Knocking out an average of 237 yards on the ground, Arkansas tacked on 23 yards rushing in the second quarter and 13 more in the third.
By then, Florida’s lead was 14 and don’t think for a minute that throwing more would have altered the outcome. Arkansas completed 4-of-11 in the first half and 4-of-9 in the third quarter. Almost every pass was an adventure. Pressured more than he had been all year, Brandon Allen rarely had the luxury of surveying the scene from the pocket.
Trailing by 20 in the final minutes, Allen was still chucking passes and taking hits.
A must in the Razorbacks’ recipe for victory was to win the turnover battle. Instead, it was Arkansas 2, Florida 0.
Flushed in the second quarter, Allen made a poor decision to throw on the run to Keon Hatcher, who was outnumbered 3-to-1. Florida defensive back Louchiez Purifoy accepted the gift for a 10-7 lead. Allen also threw behind a few receivers, was too low on occasion, and lost a fumble when sacked.
A third-quarter possession with potential epitomized Arkansas’ woes. Working from the Florida 16, Allen threw into the end zone, but Jaylen Watkins ripped the ball away from Herndon. Alex Collins made a yard inside, the Gators were all over a third-down screen pass, and the Razorbacks settled for three points.
Allen played only a small role in the second quarter reversal. The sequence began with Herndon, who retreated on a punt return from the Florida end zone and lost a yard to the Gators’ 46. On a well-conceived first-down pass, Allen missed a wide-open Kiero Small. A third-down pass was also incomplete and Jarrett Lake was correctly flagged for interfering with the punt returner.
Chuck Dunlap, the Southeastern Conference communications director for football, cited a rule that says a player who makes a valid fair catch signal has "the unimpeded opportunity" to catch a kick and that if he muffs the kick, he still has the protection to complete the catch until the ball hits the ground.
Even then, five plays deep in the possession, the Gators were still on their side of the 50. From there, Tyler Murphy, once the Gators’ third-team quarterback, bought a little time — not a Johnny Manziel imitation, but sufficient — and threw down the middle to Solomon Patton.
Defensive back Tevin Mitchel whiffed and Patton completed the 51-yard play with 20 seconds to play. Mitchel was also victimized on the 38-yard pass that made it 24-7.
There were some bright spots:
• Aware of confusion, Allen wisely called timeout on first down from the Florida 4. On the next play, Jonathan Williams’ reached the end zone.
• Arkansas’ response to the Allen fumble that was recovered at the Razorbacks’ 29. A running play lost two, Murphy threw incomplete twice, and 6-foot-10 Dan Skipper blocked his second field goal.
• Linebacker Martrell Spaight covered half the field to save a touchdown and force a field goal.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.