ATLANTA – One of the nation's best playmakers and his electrifying speed was on display and got into the end zone two times during the SEC Championship game here on Saturday night.
Problem for the University of Arkansas was that it was not Heisman Trophy hopeful Darren McFadden, but instead speedy Florida freshman Percy Harvin who found pay dirt twice and was named the game's MVP.
Harvin scored on a 37-yard catch and his 67-yard scoring dash proved to be the winning points as the No. 4 Gators rallied from behind and then held off the No. 8 Razorbacks 38-28 Saturday night to win the league title before 73,734 at The Georgia Dome.
"It was a hard fought game and I can't tell you how proud I am of this football team and they fight they had," noted Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt, whose team fell behind 17-0. "I love their heart. They could have let go of the rope several times, but they never did. We didn't come down here to just play, we came down here to win."
Those were just two of the big plays in a game filled with them – including three touchdown passes thrown by non-quarterbacks, a fumbled punt that resulted in a score, a blocked punt that set up another, a defensive lineman running an interception in for six and over 700 yards total offense.
"I want to congratulate the University of Arkansas," Florida head coach Urban Meyer said. "This was one of the best games of the season."
Florida (12-1) will find out on Sunday if it did enough to get into the national title game against unbeaten Ohio State (12-0) to get in the national title game tot if they will have to settle for the Sugar Bowl against likely foe Notre Dame.
"I will put my cards all out there on the table," Meyer said. "This is a football team that went 12-1, won the SEC Championship and has beat six ranked teams. I don't know how you can tell these team they don't deserve to play for the national title."
The Razorbacks – who lined up five different guys at quarterback in the game - will also found out on Sunday whether they will represent the SEC in the Capital One bowl in Orlando against Wisconsin or head to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas to play either Nebraska or Oklahoma.
Nutt made his case.
"All I know is that that these team deserves the best bowl that is right under the BCS ones," Nutt said.
Harvin rushed for 6 times for 105 yards and caught 5 passes for 62 yards in the win.
"Coach kept saying that they when they had man coverage, if we could make somebody miss then we could get a big play and that's what happened on the long touchdown run. We beat a great team."
Ironically in a game that featured 9 touchdown and in which SEC Western Division champ Arkansas (10-3) rallied from a 17-0 deficit near halftime to take the lead right after intermission, McFadden did not score a one of them although he did throw for one.
McFadden rushed 21 times for 72 yards during the game, far under his average, while fellow sophomore Felix Jones had 13 carries for 57 yards.
That put Jones over 1,000 yards rushing, a level that McFadden had long ago topped.
"We had our work cut out for us stopping their two backs," Florida defensive back Reggie Nelson said. "That was the key going in, stopping McFadden and Jones, because they are two great backs. For the most part, I thought we did."
Casey Dick, who struggled last week in a 31-26 loss to LSU, was 10-of-22 passing for 148 yards.
The Razorbacks passed for 179 yards and rushed for 132 yards on a night when Dick, McFadden, Jones, Robert Johnson and Mitch Mustain all lined up at quarterback for at least a snap.
Arkansas scored three straight touchdowns – the final one a 40-yard interception return for a score by sophomore defensive end Antwain Robunson - to go up 21-17 when it at first appeared that the Razorbacks were going to get blown out and maybe not score a touchdown in their third berth in the SEC Championship game.
But Florida's Wondy Pierre-Lewis jumped on Reggie Fish's muffed punt for a score, one that coupled with Chris Hetland's PAT gave the Gators a 24-21 lead they would not relinquish.
Nutt was asked if the punt muff was the biggest punt of the game.
"It always hurts in a big game, but it wasn't just one play that beat us," Nutt said. "We had two or three special team breakdowns that hurt. "
On its next possession, Harvin went one way, doubled back and outraced everyone to send his team ahead 31-21 with 14:22 left in the game.
"We definitely game-planned for him (Harvin)," Nutt said. "He is very, very difficult to stop because he can catch the ball. They run screens with him and move him back as a running back like we do with Darren. It's hard to cover all you bases with all the speed they have on the field."
Arkansas got it to within 31-28 when wideout Cedric Washington hit Felix Jones with a 29-yard touchdown pass with 12:28 left in game.
"I felt like both teams wanted to win and we knew we weren't going to hold anything back," Monk said. "It's too late in the season and there isn't any sense in it. I knew coming in it would be a hard-fought game."
But Florida then put it away when wideout Andre Caldwell hit Tate Casey with a 5-yard touchdown pass as just 9:04 showed on the clock.
"I can't say enough about our 21 seniors," Meyer said. "They made some great plays tonight and led the way for us."
Arkansas actually begin showing life right before intermission when quarterback Dick hit Marcus Monk with a 48-yard touchdown pass despite the fact that Florida was flagged for interference on the play.
That sent Florida to the intermission with a 17-7 lead.
Weston Dacus' interception of Florida quarterback Chris Leak's pass into double coverage on Florida's initial second half possession gave Arkansas a ton of momentum right off the bat after intermission.
The Razorbacks capitalized on that when McFadden – lined up at the quarterback spot in the Wildcat formation – threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to an inexplicably uncovered Jones.
Davis's PAT cut it to 17-14 at the 11:41 mark – but it didn't stay they way long as the Arkansas' defense came up big once again.
Robinson then intercepted Leak's shovel pass and outraced everyone 40 yards to the house.
Davis's PAT lifted Arkansas to a 21-17 advantage with 8:33 left in the third quarter.
"I really thought we had it going when Antwain ran that in," Nutt said. "We could feel the momentum swing to us and I thought we were going to come back and win it then."
Fish's decision to try and field a punt inside of the Razorback five proved deadly as he fumbled, couldn't get it back and Lewis pounced on it to grab the momentum back for the Gators.
Hetland's extra point suddenly had the Gators back ahead 24-21 with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
When Hetland hit a 33-yard field goal to put the Gators up 3-0 with 6:10 left in the first quarter, it should have been a sign to Florida fans that they were in for a good day.
The 33-yarder was not only Hetland's longest of the season, but was his first make after eight straight misses and made him just 4-of-12 this season.
It grew to 10-0 in the second quarter when Florida blocked Jacob Skinner's punt, Leak took it into the end zone from the 9 on the first play after that and Hetland's PAT was true with 8:54 remaining in the opening half.
The Gators maded it 17-0 on their next series when Leak hooked up with Harvin on a 37-yard touchdown pass at the 4:02 mark.
Arkansas did finally score its first touchdown in three SEC Championship game appearances when Dick hit a single-covered Monk for a 48-yard scoring strike.
Monk caught the ball despite being interfered with and Davis' PAT cut it 17-7.
Florida drove down the field, but Anthony Brown's sack kept away another scoring opportunity.
The Razorbacks got the ball back with three seconds, but Dick's Hail Mary pass was intercepted near the goal line by Reggie Lewis.
Arkansas enters the Georgia Dome before Saturday night's SEC Championship game,
Florida 38, Arkansas 28
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
TCU vs Iowa State primerAfter falling in double-overtime to Arkansas, TCU looks to get back to their winning ways against Iowa State.
Horned Frog Insider09/15/2016
The Ultimate Midlands TeamThere is a lot of talent in the Midlands region, with a vast majority of the highest rated recruits playing high school football in the Lone Star State. Which prospects made the…
These rival helmet color swaps are revoltingSwapping rival teams' helmet colors? It shouldn't have been done, but someone did it anyway.
Post-July 2017 Top 100 Player RankingsWith the July evaluation periods, Nike Skills Academy, adidas Nations and Under Armour's Elite 24 over, Scout's basketball recruiting team has updated the 2017 top 100. DeAndre…
2017 South Region Top 150The stars are lined up in the 2017 South Top 150 and you can see the full pre-season list here...