GAINESVILLE, Fla. - No. 16 Florida took unranked Arkansas to the woodshed in the second quarter of their SEC showdown on Saturday, but somebody forgot to lock Razorback senior Matt Jones in there at intermission and it nearly cost the Gators.
Jones and his teammates erased almost all of a 31-point deficit they found themselves in late in the third quarter, but linebacker Channing Crowder's interception on a potential game-tying drive with just over four minutes left in the game allowed Florida to escape with a 45-30 win before 88,000-plus fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
It was a phenomenal late effort for the Razorbacks after Gator sophomore quarterback Chris Leak threw for 237 of his career-high 322 passing yards and two of his three touchdowns by halftime as Florida jumped to a 35-7 lead at halftime and added a field goal before Arkansas started to rally.
Jones was the quarterbacking star in the second half and became the school's all-time career leader in total offense in the game with 329 yards total offense - passing for 253 yards and rushing for 76 - while leading his team to three second-half touchdowns and giving them a shot to win.
Jones, 23-of-39 on the day as he team rolled up 386 yards total offense to Florida's 440, and the Razorbacks got it to 38-30 before the rally died out with one of the three Gator picks of the day.
"I love the way we came back in the second half," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "Our guys played extremely hard. We didn't get off on the right foot. I thought our defense jumped out their on the first three series and got off the field. I wish we could have scored at least one of those first three and I think it would have been a different game. We let them get out of the gate early and that's exactly what we didn't want to happen."
The win for the Gators (3-1, 2-1) was their 79th in the last 89th games at the stadium dubbed "The Swamp" and was the fifth loss in six games between the school for Arkansas (3-2, 1-1).
"I tell you what I am just glad they are off the schedule now," Florida head coach Ron Zook said after the CBS nationally televised game, which mirrored a 33-31 win by Florida last season in Arkansas, who fell behind 33-7 in that contest.
After Florida took a 38-7 lead with 3:35 left in the third quarter, the amazing Jones and his teammates refused to roll over and went to work on a stirring rally.
"I have got to give them (the Gators) credit - they are a good football team," Nutt said of a team his outscored 23-10 in the second half. "I love the fight in our team."
Arkansas took the ball 70 yards in 7 plays in just over two minutes with senior running back DeCori Birmingham taking it the final 12 yards and Balseiro finding the range on the PAT to cut the deficit to 38-14 with :59 left in the third quarter.
It became 38-22 on the Razorbacks' next possession when Jones ran the option for 25 yards and a score and then hit Birmingham with a 2-point conversion pass with 11:25 left in the game.
Jones then hooked up with freshman Marcus Monk on a 7-yard touchdown pass and then a 2-point conversion to cut it to 38-30 as the clock showed 6:53 left on the contest.
"I just think we just relaxed," Nutt said. "We did the same thing, we called the same plays, we didn't even make that many adjustments (offensively). We just played like we are capable of playing...It was execution and everybody on the same page."
Arkansas got the ball back, but Jones' pass from Carlos Ousley bounced off his shoulder and into Crowder's arms.
Leak, 23-of-38 passing with no interception on the afternoon, then added a 2-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Baker with 1:54 remaining to seal the win.
It was the only touchdown the Gators scored in the second half.
"We put in some young people back there in the secondary and they had a bunch of three and outs," Nutt said. "I thought they (the Gators) panicked a little bit. I would have liked to get to 36 or 38 and seen what would have happened."
The two teams traded punts seven punts in the opening quarter before Florida finally broke the ice by getting points on the board late in the period.
Leak's 40-yard pass to Chad Jackson was the big play of a a 7-play, 73-yard drive that was capped by Ciatrick Fason ‘s runs of 15 and 1, the last one for the score. Matt Leach's PAT made it 7-0 with 1:41 remaining in the opening quarter.
The dam then broke for the Razorbacks in the second quarter as the Gators scored four touchdowns - all on quick-hitting sprints down the field in 88 seconds or less.
First it was a 2-play, 80-yard, 18-second sprint that was capped by a double-reverse that Andre Caldwell took 61 yards for the score. Leach's PAT made it 14-0 at the 10:49 left before halftime.
Arkansas showed some and answered immediately with a 10-play, 90-yard drive that cut its deficit in half.
Jones connected with senior wideout Steven Harris on passes of 19 and 27 and a 12-yarder to freshman receiver Monk on the drive while junior running back De'Arrius Howard handled the ground duty.
Howard capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge and Balseiro's PAT cut it to 14-7 at the 6:05 mark.
But Leak came right back to lead a 4-play, 80-yard drive that took just 88 seconds off the clock and resulted in a 34-yard touchdown pass to Baker and a Leach PAT that pushed the lead to 21-7 with 4:44 left before intermission.
Jones threw an interception on Arkansas' next play and it Florida quickly turned that into a 28-7 margin when Fason raced in from the 3 and Leach loaded up his leg again with 3:13 remaining before the break.
Florida then capped the first half scoring after an Arkansas' 3-and-out with Leak's 48-yard touchdown pass to Jermalle Cornelius and Leach's PAT with 53 seconds left gave the Gators a 35-7 advantage.
The lead grew to 38-7 when the Gators in the third quarter when the home team went 40 yards in 11 plays and Leach drilled a 37-yard field goal at the 3:35 mark.
Arkansas played the second half without freshman running back Peyton Hillis, who suffered a bruised lower back on the Razorbacks' first scoring drive after rushing five times for 14 yard.
UA wideout and Florida native Harris had 6 catches for 114 yards and Monk career-highs of 5 catches and 53 yards.
The Razorbacks have next Saturday off before traveling to Auburn for an Oct. 16 game.
Barrett Rawlins cheers on the Hogs at Florida.
Houston Nutt regrouped the Hogs at halftime.
Vickiel Vaughn and another Hog finish a tackle against Florida.
Cedric Washington had two catches for 29 yards.
Florida 45, Arkansas 30
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