FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — No. 10 Florida becomes the latest tough SEC foe in what has been a tough stretch for Arkansas.
The Hogs (5-3 overall, 1-3 SEC) host the Gators (6-1, 4-1) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
To help Arkansas fans get a better idea of what their team is up against next, we turn to Zach Abolverdi, who covers the Gators for SEC Country.
Zach joined SEC Country’s Borderline Erotic Podcast earlier this week. What follows is an abridged version of that conversation.
Jason Kersey: This is a big game for both teams but for different reasons. What is it that Florida has most to gain from a win Saturday?
Zach Abolverdi: They just need to play well on the road. They haven’t done that in their first two away games this season. Obviously, lost the first one to Tennessee and then kind of sleepwalked through the Vandy game.
They had Austin Appleby at quarterback and he didn’t do well, so that hurt them offensively. I just think now they’ve gained some confidence after that win over Georgia. Luke Del Rio isn’t trying to get his feet wet necessarily and come back from an injury; now it’s just about him playing well and the team playing well. They need to do that on the road and show they can beat a team like Arkansas. If they can’t, they’re not gonna be able to go beat a team like LSU or Florida State.
Kersey: What kind of difference does it make when Florida has Luke Del Rio running this offense?
Abolverdi: You haven’t seen much of a difference yet because I don’t think he is playing at the level he was playing at prior to his injury. You know, people forget … he seems like an upperclassman and even a veteran of this team, but he is still, experience-wise, a first-year player. He’s only made 5 career starts. It’s still taking him time to get his feet under him and really feel comfortable about everything that he’s doing. I think at times since he’s been back, he’s been pressing a little bit, maybe trying to make up for lost time and look for the big play a little bit too much. But the reason he won the job and became Florida’s starter was because this is his third year in Doug Nussmeier’s system. He is a very knowledgeable player because of his dad and growing up around the game.
I don’t think he’ll be a guy who’s gonna throw for 300 yards a game or do anything like that, but he just needs to play a little bit sharper to get that offense to run smoothly.
Kersey: Florida’s defense ranks second in the country in scoring and total defense. What has made that unit so good?
Abolverdi: I really think that more than anything, they’ve developed as players and with chemistry. This is their second year in Geoff Collins’ system. I do think at the end of last year, they weren’t playing at an elite level. They did play some of the better offenses in college football and that kinda hurt them toward that end stretch, but it’s amazing to think that this is and could end up being a better unit than last year’s defense when you consider the amount of starters they lost. At this point, production-wise, as far as what the stats say, this defense is playing better.
Now, again, they still haven’t played any of the offensive juggernauts. Missouri ranks near the top of the SEC in a lot of offensive categories, but I think that’s skewed by some of their opponents early in the season.