State of the Hogs: Top 10 Keys (Florida)

Arkansas and Florida will slug it out on the ground Saturday night. The big question, who slugs best on first down? Here are the Top 10 keys from Publisher Clay Henry

There can be no mistaking what Arkansas remembers about its last trip to The Swamp. It was referee Marc Curles and his crew's horrible work as officials. That bunch sat out the next week after the SEC office reviewed the game.

But what I recall was the way Arkansas executed on both sides of the ball on first down to make an upset of the Gators a real possibility. Some of it came down to work against a great Florida front, missing a key player, the injured middle linebacker that made everything work.

Florida is missing a key player this time, too. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley blew out a knee two weeks ago and is done for the year. Actually, he's done for his college career since he will declare for the NFL draft. He was considered one of the nation's top defensive linemen.

But in this case, Florida is equipped to take up the slack with relative ease. Depth in the defensive line is solid for the Gators. They've closed ranks with relative ease, or so it seems.

Florida has allowed just 214 rushing yards on 88 attempts. On the surface, that looks like a killer stat for an Arkansas team that relies on the ground game. Arkansas has snapped it 224 times on running plays with 1,185 net rushing yards.

But there are questions about how the Gators have piled up those amazing defensive stats, most notably the ground numbers for a proud defense. Who was it against?

Just as the Arkansas defensive numbers may have been a little questionable through three games when there were few points, yards and even snaps by the opposition, you must look at the Florida opposition.

First, the Gators have played only four games. They've had an open date early while Arkansas has not. The opposition has been Toledo, Miami, Tennessee and Kentucky. That may be the easy part of the Florida schedule, too, with not much power running.

"You look at the offenses they have played, and you see a lot of spread," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "Miami does some things a little like us, but not altogether. The others are not like us.

"That's one of the things that we always heard at Wisconsin. No one has anything to simulate the way we played. We were a knuckle ball. Not many teams even have a fullback, much less a good one on the scout team. There's no one to simulate a 250-pound Kiero Small."

Stats can be meaningful, but they are better indicators after there are quite a few SEC games included. Florida hasn't played an offense like Arkansas, something featuring downhill running. Certainly, there has been nothing like a Texas A&M offense to put some perspective on the Florida defense.

So be careful in how you draw conclusions when the season is less than half over. Arkansas is hitting the halfway point with game six, but Florida still has eight games to go. Tennessee and Kentucky are certainly not heavyweights.

That gives hope for the Razorbacks for their 6 p.m. visit to The Swamp and a shot at their first SEC victory over the Gators.

We'll get into the top 10 this week with our first stop on first down, the big play for an offense looking to run clock.

1, FIRST and 10 -- Florida leads the nation in time of possession. The Gators hold the ball for 38:58 of a 60-minute game. Arkansas is in the neighborhood with a heavy edge on possession, too. The Hogs are at 33:38. Bret Bielema said, "It may be the quickest game in history." Well, that's if both teams do well on first down. Bielema calls third down the "money down," but if you do well on first down, third down becomes easier. I ran the numbers for Arkansas last week on first down. The Hogs matched A&M almost play for play. A&M had 16 plays of 6 yards or more on first down. Arkansas also had 16. If you want to chart the game, the first down yardage may tell the story. Florida's Tyler Murphy isn't a big-play guy at quarterback, but he does well in third and short. If the Hogs can throw some low numbers at Murphy on first down, they have a chance at turning the table on time of possession. Brandon Allen has to get something positive against the Gators to get favorable down and distance situations. First and 10 might tell the story in The Swamp.

2, FLORIDA BOYS -- That's what wide receiver Javontee Herndon called the Florida products playing key roles for the Arkansas offense. They have to have a big day for the Hogs to be successful in The Swamp. Herndon hails from nearby Jacksovnille, Fla. Offensive guard Denver Kirkland, from Miami Booker T. Washington, is making his second start. Alex Collins, from Ft. Lauderdale, doesn't start, but he gets the most carries at running back. Bielema said those players were tested "with talk" by scout teamers to simulate the verbal warfare they may hear in The Swamp on Saturday night. He hoped they got the emotions out of their system. He called Collins "emotional" and Herndon "excitable," noting that they have to ignore the taunts.

3, DIRTY PLAY -- That's what Florida defensive linemen said about Travis Swanson, the Arkansas center. Well, the exact quote is "a little dirty." That's not the worst thing a football payer can be called. It's better than what many have said about the Texas defense the past few seasons. The Longhorns are noted for being soft. Swanson is anything but that. It might be worth watching what happens at the end of plays to see who does what to whom. It probably won't amount to much, but perhaps it's a big key to see who can control their emotions in a physical hitting match.

4, PHYSICALITY -- It has to be high on the list of keys to the game. Who wins the line of scrimmage? Florida has a downhill running game. Tailback Matt Jones plundered Kentucky last week. The Aggies hurt the Hogs with 262 net yards last week. Certainly, both teams figure to stress physical play throughout this one, much like most SEC games. First order of business for the Arkansas front is to answer the Florida challenge.

5, FORMATIONS -- Everyone tries to scheme an advantage these days. Arkansas does it with its tight ends. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney hid tight end Hunter Henry, then brought him through the line on creative wheel routes. A&M had difficulty finding him until he had slipped through the back end. A&M and Southern Miss both schemed an advantage by taking the tight end off the field, then running at an Arkansas defensive alignment that was light in the front. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said the front didn't pay for playing end Deatrich Wise at tackle. He said they paid for gap busts. Surely, Florida saw what teams have done against the Hogs and will see if those mistakes have been corrected.

6, GAP CONTORL -- Some of the problems for the Arkansas defense had to do with accounting for quarterback Johnny Manziel. It seemed everyone in the front was tracking the Aggie quarterback. They forgot about the running backs. It's back to the keys this week. Braylon Mitchell said the Hogs learned their lesson. The junior linebacker said it's about stopping the running backs.

7, TURNOVERS -- Florida has feasted on turnovers on defense in the time of Will Muschamp as head coach. But that's probably the key to beating the Gators. Miami forced five turnovers in upsetting the Gators early in the season. Arkansas has been up and down in that category. It was the key to victory last week for A&M. The Aggies forced two turnovers, including a pick six that might have been the key to victory. We may have this one too far down the list. It may turn out to be the number one item Saturday night. The Hogs built their 24-7 lead at Rutgers thanks to turnovers. If they are to score a road upset Saturday night, the key might be squeezing some mistakes out of Murphy, getting his second start at quarterback. The Gators have kept it simple under Murphy. Will they add a little bit for him this week? Can the Hogs take advantage? Rohan Gaines was the playmaker for the Hogs at safety in the spring. He's not been much of a factor because of injuries this fall. Is this the week Gaines shows up?

8, WEATHER -- The Hogs had to play through some rain last week against A&M. There is a tropical storm in the neighborhood Saturday night in Gainesville. Bielema said the Hogs practiced with a wet ball and packed rain gear. Does that favor the underdog? The Gators play on grass, not artificial turf like in Fayetteville. It could be a factor and help the Hogs -- if they can hold on to the ball and win that seventh category.

9, TRICKS -- It became clear the last two weeks that Jim Chaney has some tricks up his sleeves. There were wonderful, creative twists in the Arkansas offense the last two weeks. He had a shovel pass to fool an A&M blitz. There was a halfback pass at Rutgers. It appears that he's hardly vanilla as some feared early in the season when it was a heavy diet of sweeps and off tackle plays. He'll need everything in his bag against the Gators. If he's got three or four new tricks, the Hogs might pull an upset.

10, YELLOW -- There is significance here. Much. That's the color of the flags the SEC refs will throw. Will they be a big part of this game the way they were the last time Arkansas went to The Swamp and in other Florida-Arkansas match-ups? It didn't appear Matt Austin's SEC crew wanted to call holding last week when the Hogs were chasing Manziel. It could have been called on every play. How will the officials figure into this game? It's time the Hogs caught a break in a big venue like this. But first, they have to go toe to toe with the Gators and prove they can win a physical hitting match.

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