FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas responded from its worst performance of the season with its best in a 31-10 victory over No. 11 Florida on Saturday.
The Hogs (6-3, 2-3 SEC) were coming off a bye and two weeks removed from an embarrassing 56-3 loss at No. 9 Auburn.
Several areas the Razorbacks struggled mightily against the Tigers suddenly became strengths against the Gators. Here’s SEC Country’s film session breakdown of how the Hogs turned things around to earn a big win.
Gibson keys good day for offensive line
Arkansas coaches and players have regularly stated the offensive line is a unit of five players acting as one. It makes sense to an extent, but it’s also seemed like a way to avoid having a couple weak spots take most of the scrutiny when they’ve struggled this season.
What’s far more telling is how much of a difference giving one player a chance can make on the unit. That was extremely evident against Florida, with redshirt sophomore Johnny Gibson, a walk-on, getting his first start of the season and producing an outstanding performance. He replaced Jake Raulerson at right guard in large part because he simply asked for the opportunity, coach Bret Bielema said after the game.
On Arkansas’ first offensive touchdown, Gibson (No. 62) drove his man to the goal line as running back Rawleigh Williams III shakes and plows his way into the end zone. This was the beginning of a great day for Gibson. It also should be noted how well the rest of the front executed on this play, and really most of the game. Left guard Hjalte Froholdt blocked a couple of defenders before eventually helping drive Williams into the end zone.
This is where Gibson was most impressive Saturday — as a pulling guard out in front of running plays. Right tackle Brian Wallace does his job against the defensive end as Gibson loops around him and clears out the linebacker, opening a huge hole for Devwah Whaley to gain 14 yards.
Gibson shifted to left guard here after Froholdt left the game with a leg injury. He’s still every bit as effective. He pulls to his right to smack the defensive end and help open another hole for Whaley that results in a 12-yard gain. This, again, is really a great job by the whole unit. Also notice how left tackle Dan Skipper recovers to make a crucial block on a defensive end at the last second, likely preventing a tackle for loss.
The final dagger put an exclamation on a huge day for Williams, who rushed for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns, and was again great execution from Gibson. He pulls around Skipper and seals off the cornerback, allowing Williams to use his exceptional vision and cut back through the hole for a 41-yard score. Tight end Jeremy Sprinkle and center Frank Ragnow also deserve a lot of credit on this one for helping open the running lane.
Defensive changes help Hogs thrive
The Hogs also opted to make some changes on the defensive line coming into this game. Freshman McTelvin Agim was inserted as a starter at tackle, senior Jeremiah Ledbetter shifted from tackle to end, senior JaMichael Winston started in place of senior Deatrich Wise Jr. at end and sophomore Randy Ramsey played regularly at end and linebacker for the first time in the Hogs’ base defense.
The changes worked remarkably well. After giving up a school-record 543 rushing yards to Auburn, the defense allowed only 12 against Florida.
Ledbetter had a great game helping “set the edge” from the end spot. Ramsey showed his athleticism while effectively playing two positions in run and pass situations. Then there was Agim, who looked like and played like a seasoned veteran despite being one of the youngest players on the field. Here he swallows up a double-team and makes a stop at the line of scrimmage. This kid is a special talent.
Let’s not forget about Wise. Getting demoted is never easy. It’s been a rough season for him as a team captain who has battled through several injuries. However, Wise appeared undeterred by not starting and actually played well with a pair of quarterback hurries, a half-sack and a half-tackle-for-loss. He interestingly played some at defensive tackle in pass-rush situations. Here he forced an incomplete pass with good pressure to force a Florida punt on a crucial drive.
Allen starts slow, finds his groove
Quarterback Austin Allen made some uncharacteristically poor throws earlier in this game. Maybe it was a result of his sprained right knee, which he injured against Auburn, bothering him. The pick-6 he threw late in the first quarter probably was his worst pass of the season.
The junior responded almost immediately. He completed 13 of his 20 passes the rest of the game to finish with 243 yards against a Florida pass defense that leads the SEC and is No. 2 nationally in yards per game.
Allen’s best drive of the day came on Arkansas’ final possession of the first half. He led a 10-play, 87-yard touchdown drive by completing all five of his pass attempts, including this dime he dropped to Jeremy Sprinkle.
Enos’ screen game works to perfection
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos had one heck of a game. It helped tremendously that the offensive line along with Williams and Whaley were able to establish an effective running game, but Enos showed how deadly he can as a play-caller when that happens.
He seemed to know exactly what the Gators were going to throw at them in every situation. That is best evidenced by the Hogs’ effective screen passes to running backs, all three of which went for big gains. This is such an effective way to beat an overaggressive defensive line.
The first went for a 43-yard gain to Whaley, the biggest play of Arkansas’ first scoring drive. Froholdt does a good job of getting out in front and making a block. Whaley was able to show off his speed, but the Gators were clearly beat before he ever caught the ball.
The next, a 17-yard gain to Williams on the first play of the fourth quarter, shows Florida’s overaggression. Both defensive linemen on the right side shoot far upfield and Florida apparently has no plan to account for Williams a receiver.
Enos went back to the same play to Whaley he called in the first quarter only moments after the previous screen to Williams. This is a tremendous play by Allen to fool the defense into thinking it’s a drop-back pass before dumping it off at the last second. Again, look at how fast Whaley can get upfield once he turns his shoulders. That’s another freshman showing he is a special talent. This is Enos using his best talents and an overaggressive defense to perfection.
Morgan, Sprinkle help provide mismatch
With standout Florida cornerbacks Jalen “Teez” Tabor and Quincy Wilson focusing on slowing down Keon Hatcher and Jared Cornelius, Arkansas wisely looked to other targets to make plays in the passing game. Screen passes, as mentioned, were effective, as were Sprinkle and wide receiver Drew Morgan.
Morgan often saw coverage from a safety or third cornerback and feasted. Here he leaves nickelback Duke Dawson behind as he spins away to turn a short gain into 19 yards.
Morgan later shakes safety Marcus Maye with a tremendous route and hauls in a second-quarter touchdown. This was also a really impressive pass from Allen over the linebackers and into a tight window. Morgan led the Hogs with 7 catches and 95 yards.
Sprinkle against a linebacker is a total mismatch against anyone, and Arkansas exploited that against Florida. Any linebacker will struggle to run with him, as there is no chance of matching his size and physicality. Here the linebacker gets lost in man-to-man coverage against Sprinkle and he rips off a 31-yard gain. The pass protection shouldn’t be overlooked here. Florida is likely banking on getting to Allen before he has time to pick apart the coverage.
Sophomore safety Santos Ramirez gave the Hogs their fourth pick-6 of the season on Florida’s first offensive play. This defense may not be great or have suddenly fixed all its flaws, but it’s certainly an opportunistic bunch. The 4 interceptions for scores is tied for the SEC lead with Alabama and second nationally.
Duwop lowers the boom
Junior running back Damon “Duwop” Mitchell delivered the hit of the year so far for Arkansas, with a crushing blow to Florida’s Chris Thompson on a kickoff return to start the second half. Mitchell’s hit fired up the entire team and shouldn’t be overlooked.