Gators Talking Up Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE - Just how big is Saturday's Arkansas at No. 16 Florida game?

CBS is televising it nationally.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, who runs the most open program in the country, has closed all but the warm-up stretches of this week's practices to reporters.

That says a lot.

Last time he did that was before last season's stunningly impressive 38-28 win at No. 6 Texas.

Folks, this is a real big deal.

"This is going to be a big game," said Florida coach Ron Zook, adding that Gators fans need to make the same noise Hogs fans did here during last year's 33-28 Florida win, because this clash is going to be "exciting."

An even bigger clue to the magnitude of this game: The Gators (3-1) are tipping their helmets to the Hogs, talking Arkansas up big-time, almost reverentially. It has not been anything like the primers of South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, who could make Arkansas State sound scary.

No, it's been a trip listening to the sincerity of the Gators, particularly since Arkansas - a surprising 3-1 team picked next-to-last in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division -has to travel to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, otherwise known as The Swamp, a place where the Gators have constructed the third-best home record in all of Division I football since 1990.

As always, Arkansas senior quarterback Matt Jones is the center of Florida's attention because of his lethal right arm (he's second in the SEC in passing with a 209.5-yard average) and legs (10th in rushing with 61.2 yards per game).

In Wednesday's edition, Gainesville (Fla.) Sun columnist Pat Dooley gushed over Jones, calling him the "most dangerous" quarterback in the SEC and the reason the Hogs have a solid shot in this.

Just one example of the Gators' respect for Jones, as uttered by linebacker Travis Harris: "He's probably the most talented, athletic quarterback that we will face this year. You have to be aware of his abilities. It's rare to come across a quarterback like that."

Check out Florida's dandy sophomore quarterback, Chris Leak, who was asked about last season's matchup here in Razorback Stadium, where the Gators chomped onto the Hogs for a 33-7 fourth-quarter lead (just 8 minutes and 46 seconds remained) before three Jones TD passes cut the deficit to 33-28. Florida finished the Hogs only after a Sam Olajubutu interception was wiped out by Tony Bua's shot to Leak's mouth with 1:33 left to play.

Keep in mind this was said in front of a weekly gathering of the Florida media, an important point as opponents generally talk up the competition (no matter how unworthy) when faced by out-of-town reporters. Arkansas reporters were listening in and could pipe in questions, but that's just not the same.

"That's the type of team Arkansas is," said Leak, looking back on last season. "They're the type that never gives up. They're a big-time SEC team and we've just got to go out there and play 60 minutes."

You hear that?

"Big-time SEC team."

Florida linebacker Channing Crowder remembers last season's game well.

"It was crazy," he said. "We were doing pretty well defensively, and then they just started coming back. They had a big run."

Arkansas had 26 first downs to Florida's 19, held the ball longer and outgained the Gators 529 yards to 411. It was the three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), and Bua's personal foul, that did in the Hogs.

The offense is not the only aspect of Arkansas to grab the Gators' attention.

Zook -who has gone out of his way to compliment the way Nutt gets the most from his players, even at SEC venues without being asked -credited Arkansas's staff for keeping young Hogs defenders charging full-Boar.

"They play hard, and I think that's the coaches," Zook said. "Guys just don't come out and do that. It's a habit that coaches have to continue to stress and stay after, and they do a nice job."

Ciatrick Fason is Florida's tough 6-foot, 212-pound junior running back who had a career day against Kentucky in last weekend's 20-3 home win. Fason was named the SEC's Offensive Player of the Week after mauling the Wildcats for 210 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries and catching 5 passes for 43 yards and another TD.

In last year's game here, Fason racked up 98 yards on 11 carries against the Hogs, 75 of them on a third-quarter sideline scoring sprint. He also caught a 33-yard second-quarter Leak pass for a TD.

Yet he doesn't exactly remember it as a field day.

A funny guy, Fason serioused up as he said the Hogs will whack you on the way back to the huddle if you're not careful.

"They love to hit," Fason said. "That's what makes Arkansas Arkansas."

During Wednesday's weekly SEC teleconference, Zook continued to praise the oncoming Hogs.

"First of all, they have much more talent then people allude to," Zook said. "I think if you look at how they play, that's coaching. They play hard and enjoy the game, and that's what makes them so tough.

"They are a very dangerous team."

Well said.

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