It might have been just a baby step, but the rebuilding University of Arkansas football program at least took one small one forward Saturday instead of the two giant steps back it had in the previous couple of games.
After two straight blowouts to top 5 teams that combined to score 100 points, there was at least some hope and a little fight up until the fourth quarter against No. 12 Florida and defending Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
Although the Gators (4-1, 2-1) would go on to score 3 fourth-quarter touchdowns and down the home team 38-7 before 70,072 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, UA head coach Bobby Petrino at least saw his team in the game after intermission for the first time in a month.
"The one thing I do know is that this week is our players really got themselves ready to play," Petrino said. "They worked hard all week and had better leadership in practice and it showed during the game.
"Our defense did well today and I liked what we did before halftime, but we have to learn to score points when we drive the ball," Petrino added.
That included a gutty performance by 5-7, 173-pound junior running back Michael Smith, who had 20 carries for 133 yards rushing and 6 catches for an additional 43 yards.
"We thought we had a chance," Smith said. "We let it slip away. We have to play four quarters. In order to be a good team we have to learn to do that...We know we let it go in that fourth quarter. As a team we understand that."
There was also freshmen wideout Joe Adams, who had 5 catches for 68 yards for the Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2).
The defense had given up just 17 points and just 268 yards of total offense at the end of the third quarter before allowing trio of fourth-quarter TDs and 246 yards in the final frame to mar the effort.
"It's a tough loss because our players did a good job to get their emotions back after the Texas loss (52-10), but we had better leadership this week during practice and they have shown they really care."
Florida coach Urban Meyer was pleased with his team, which won despite having several starters out and won ahead of a showdown with visiting LSU next week.
"We're a work in progress with 8-9 starters out," Meyer said. "We've got a real one next week. Today the best thing that we did was stop the underneath crosses and we corralled their tailback in the second half."
Tebow was 17-of-26 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns while Arkansas' Casey Dick was 24-of-38 for 220 yards with each QB tossing an interception.
Dick moved into seventh place on the all-time UA passing list with 4,459 yards, which passed Joe Ferguson.
The Razorbacks, which shot themselves in the foot a couple of times in the opening half, cut it to 17-7 on their first drive of the second half.
Dennis Johnson got it started with a kickoff return to nearly midfield and Adams made a couple of big plays in the passing game.
Adams' one-handed grab and dash set up the score – a Smith 6-yard touchdown dash with 5:55 left in the third quarter.
The Razorbacks had 141 yards rushing on Saturday after just 12 last week against Texas even with two injured starters and redshirt freshmen Grant Cook and Grant Freeman filling in.
"We ran the ball well and executed and they held up well in pass protection," Petrino said. "They did well in practice and it showed. They came out ready to play today. Michael Smith really ran well today. He had some good holes and ran hard and got good yards after contact."
Arkansas linebacker Jerry Franklin then picked off Tebow on the next possession – his first career interception and one that snapped a streak of 203 passes without an interception that was the third longest in SEC history.
"We got in position to win when we got that touchdown, but when we got that interception we weren't able to convert it and get any points," Petrino said.
The Razorbacks indeed couldn't capitalize and Tebow's 21-pass to Percy Harvin with 11:58 left in the pushed it to 24-7.
Shay Haddock's field goal with 7:24 left was blocked to leave the score the way it was.
Chris Rainey's 75-yard dash to paydirt with 5:07 left in the game erased any doubts and then Jeffrey Demps' 48-yard scamper just added insult to injury.
Petrino knows those are the type of plays his team needs to make instead of giving up.
"We haven't been able to hit that big home run yet this year and that is what we need," Petrino said. "We are getting some good 19 and 20-yard runs, but we just haven't been able to break the big one yet."
Florida took a 7-0 lead in the opening on a 10-play, 64-yard drive that was capped by Tebow's 2-yard shovel pass to Brandon James and Jonathan Phillips' PAT at the 6:54 mark.
It stayed that way until Smith's fumble on a punt return that set up the Gators on a short field albeit two penalties pushed them back from the 16 to the 36.
On 1st-and-30, Demps covered all 36 yards untouched to push it to 14-0 with 7:19 left before intermission.
Arkansas had the opportunity to cut it to that before halftime and drove from its own 20 to the Florida 25, but Dick's pass heaved into coverage near the goal line was picked off by Joe Haden.
Florida then took the opening kickoff of the second half and moved their advantage to 17-0 on Phillips' 37-yard field goal.
Arkansas finishes its stretch of four games against ranked opponents when it travels to Auburn for a 4 p.m. game next Saturday.
"Playing a close game (for three quarters) against Florida will definitely give us some momentum," Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard said. "I'm ready to play Auburn now."
Jerry Franklin picks off his first career pass, one that ended Tim Tebow's streak of 203 throws without one.
Michael Smith picked up several of his 133 yards after contact.
Smith scores the Razorbacks' lone touchdown of the game.
Joe Adams had 5 catches for 68 yards.
London Crawford tries to outrun Brandon Hicks.
Bobby Petrino expresses his displeasure on Saturday.
D.J. Williams looks to pick up yardage after one of his career-high 6 catches.
Jerico Nelso tries to bring down Tim Tebow.
Arkansas defensive tackle Cord Gray tackles Chris Rainey.
Several Arkansas defenders work to bring down Brandon James.
Florida 38, Arkansas 7
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