GAMEDAY: Head to head match up vs. Arkansas

This week we pit the Florida positions against the Arkansas positions. This is a report we spend hours compiling so as to give you the best possible insight into what to look for this Saturday when the Gators meet the Hogs in a classic SEC tilt on the field. Read on and see who has the edge!

GATOR OFFENSIVE LINE VS. HOGS DEFENSIVE FRONT

Head Coach Houston Nutt said that Arkansas' defensive front played their finest game to date last Saturday versus Alabama. Nose guard Jeremy Harrell made 12 tackles, against a Tide attack that ran the ball 46 times, minus Brodie Croyle. Regardless of how many tackles were made and by whom, the Arkansas defense surrendered 5.9 yards per carry. Bama tailback Ray Hudson had 20 carries for 170 yards, including a 63 yard sprint for a score. Without the 63 yard run, Hudson still averaged 5.6 yards per attempt. Texas tailback Cedric Benson ripped the Hogs for 188 yards on 29 carries, 6.5 yards per rush. Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has to be concerned about facing the SEC's leading rusher Ciatrick Fason on the heels of outbursts by Benson and Hudson.

Harrell (6'2 282) and defensive tackle Arrion Dixon (6'4 295) will face an extremely tough Florida interior line. Harrell, a sophomore, saw action last season as a reserve. He had recorded only three tackles coming into the Alabama game, but was tremendous against the Crimson Tide, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Dixon earned a starting spot on the D-Line for the Hogs halfway through the 2002 season and has not looked back. Dixon's strength is his ability to get off the block and get after the ballcarrier. The transfer from Hargrave Military Academy has 10 tackles including 2.5 for loss. He is not a guy with a great first step and the ability to run down quarterbacks. Defensive end Jeb Huckeba brings the most experience along the Arkansas front seven. Since moving from the MIKE, Huckeba has entrenched himself as a solid player against the run. He is the team leader in both tackles for loss (4) and sacks (2). True freshman Marcus Harrison (6'3 285) is just getting his feet wet. Another Hargrave Military transfer, Harrison has racked up 10 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss.

Middle linebacker Clarke Moore has had an impact on the Razorbacks defense since bulking up and improving his speed during his redshirt year. He posted s solid 2002 campaign, where he led the team with 9 tackles in the SEC Championship Game. The 6'2 247 junior started the first three games in 2003 before suffering a broken leg. Moore has accumulated 19 tackles thus far and two pass break-ups. Moore shares the MIKE with LaGrange, Georgia's Sam Olajabutu. The 5'9 224 junior recorded six tackle against the Gators in Fayetteville last season. Lining up the SAM is 6'0 227 junior Pierre Brown, who is the team's second leading tackler. The Birmingham, Alabama native moved outside this past spring. Outside linebacker/safety (HUSKY) John Jackson should be an integral part of the Razorbacks plan in Gainesville. The 6'0 190 junior has earned the confidence of the Arkansas coaches as a solid cover man. The speedy linebacker has little experience and should see coverage on Florida's slot receiver. He has 17 tackles this season.

The Florida offensive line continues to perform solidly. Rimington Watch candidate Mike Degory leads a Florida line that is the most physical group to suit up in Gainesville in years. Offensive line Coach Joe Wickline has received solid physical play from guards Lance Butler, Mo Mitchell, as well as, tackles Randy Hand and Jon Colon. Butler and Hand have been especially impressive and in my opinion should merit post-season award consideration, should they continue to play at this level. Florida has also allowed quarterback Chris Leak plenty of time to find open receivers with solid pass blocking skills. The Gators have had other players see additional playing time such as, tackle/guard Anthony Guerrero, guard Steve Rissler, and center Billy Griffin.

Analysis: The Razorbacks will need a much improved effort by their defensive front in this game. They were scorched by Benson and Hudson, when they knew that Texas and 'Bama were not going to light them up through the air. Getting pressure on Leak while slowing down Ciatrick Fason means pulling double duty. Fason is a tremendously talented back, but holes opened by the Gators hustling offensive front has helped spring him to the top as the SEC's leading rusher. Florida's offensive line must continue to impose a physical presence as they begin the first part of a tough conference stretch.

Edge:

GATOR SKILLS POSITIONS VS. HOGS SECONDARY

"It's a totally 180 degree turn now, because it's one of the best passing combinations with the receivers they have." Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt said regarding the Razorbacks trip to Gainesville. And you though that the Gators were the only ones suiting up an inexperienced secondary? Arkansas replaced its' entire secondary from a year ago. Defensive backs coach Bobby Allen will be busy this week because these guys have not been tested. Period. The highest ranked passing team the Hogs have faced is Louisiana-Monroe, who check in at #75.

Boundary corner Darius Vinnett (5'9 175) is a transfer from West Hill College. He has recorded 19 tackles, including two for loss. Vinnett has broken up one pass. Starting opposite Vinnett, is 6'1 185 Michael Coe, who started his Arkansas career at wide receiver. Coe does not have blazing speed or tremendous athleticism, but Allen likes his technique and coachability.

The Rover is 6'0 191 junior Lerinezo Robinson, who is generally regarded as their best overall athlete. Robinson has good cover instincts and the Arkansas staff feels confident in his ability to match-up with backs and receivers. Free Safety Vickiel Vaughn (6'0 202) is the highest recruited member of the starting Razorback secondary coming out of Plano, Texas three years ago. Vaughn participated in the U.S. Army All-Star Game. He was not able to make the impact as many expected in Fayetteville, but the coaches are hoping and expecting him to help solidify an inexperienced secondary.

Ciatrick Fason is the top running back in the Southeastern Conference. He is also the leader in All Purpose Yardage. Chris Leak is the SEC's top passer. OJ Small is the league's top receiver. This does not translate well for a team that has yet to face an offensive attack as balanced as the Gators. Fason leads the league with 163 all purpose yards per game. Fullback Billy Latsko hauled in one pass last weekend.

Chris Leak was outstanding versus the Vols, but mediocre by his standards throwing three interceptions against the Wildcats. Leak is still one of the most dangerous passers in the nation, and this is just his sophomore campaign. Florida's relatively inexperienced group of talented wideouts have answered the bell. With the exception of tight end, the Gators match-up with anybody in the conference at receiver. That includes tailback Ciatrick Fason and fullback Billy Latsko, who also have good hands and pose a threat. The Razorbacks can't ignore DeShawn Wynn coming out of the backfield either.

However, the Gators must improve their red zone offense. They've left points on the field against both Tennessee and Kentucky. Both occurred at times when they could have taken a double digit advantage relatively early in the game. Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt is one of the better coaches in the league keeping his kids minds in the game and on the task at hand. A solid Florida drive with no points will not quiet the Razorbacks. The Gators will have to earn it.

Analysis: The Razorbacks have not played a team with as balanced an attack as the Gators. They certainly have not played against a quality passing attack. Texas currently ranks 10th in the Big 12 Conference in pass offense. Alabama had to insert quarterback transfer Marc Guillon as the starter against the Hogs for the injured Brodie Croyle. It was Guillon's first action since mopping up for Croyle against Western Carolina. Nobody will spread the field and pose a more dangerous threat thus far in the Arkansas schedule than the Gators. But, Leak has to make better decisions than he did versus Kentucky. He seemingly pressed too hard to put the 'Cats away early. Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack stresses turnovers, so the Gators backs and receivers had best prepare for the strip. The Hogs have secured nine turnovers thus far.

Edge:
 

GATOR DEFENSIVE FRONT VS. KENTUCKY OFFENSIVE LINE

Despite an obvious lack of returning starters, the Razorbacks offensive line has played well. The Hogs rank third in rush offense with a 224 yard per game average. They also are the top scoring offense in the conference at 39.8 points per game.

The best footwork among the Hogs belongs to left tackle Tony Ugoh. The 6'5 291 junior is a very good run blocker, but is still trying to improve his pass blocking skills. Ugoh's only action last season was as a reserve in Arkansas' final seven games. He has seen action as the starter in each of their four games in 2004. Right tackle Zac Tubbs played as a reserve to All-American Shawn Andrews last season before starting against Missouri in the Independence Bowl. Tubbs strength is also run blocking. Both Tubbs and Ugoh played the tuba. However, Tubbs can make Wookie sounds like Chewbacca.

Starting for the Hogs at left guard is sophomore 6'3 312 Stephen Parker. The Louisiana native only saw action in the 2003 season opener. The Arkansas staff likes Parker's nasty attitude. Former JUCO All-American Gene Perry will take over the reigns at right guard. Perry, 6'3 310 played as a reserve last season. He had the best spring among the Arkansas linemen. As with the others, he is a solid run blocker. Center Kyle Roper is the only Razorback offensive lineman with significant playing time. His was as a reserve, but he played a significant role as a reserve at center and guard. The 6'2 300 Powder Springs, Georgia native was recruited by then Middle Tennessee State offensive line Coach Joe Wickline, where he played tight end.

The Florida defensive front had a very good game against Kentucky. Particularly keeping Shane Boyd from using his legs to spring to the markers or find an open receiver downfield. Presently, the Gators are fourth in the conference in rush defense, giving up 113 yards per game. They'll face a Razorback offense that has run for 12 touchdowns this season.

The leaders of the Florida front are a pair of sophomores, linebacker Channing Crowder and defensive tackle Ray McDonald. Crowder leads the team in tackles with 28. The 2003 National Freshman Defensive Player of the Year has a team high two fumble recoveries and is tied with RayMac with 3.5 tackles for loss. McDonald leads the team with four quarterback hurries and has accumulated 12 tackles. Playing alongside RayMac is Marcus Thomas, yet another sophomore. Thomas has totaled nine tackles, including one for a loss. Both appear to be improving with each start.

The coaching staff credited defensive end Jeremy Mincey for his performance last weekend against the 'Cats. Mincey recorded six tackles. He has tallied 15 tackles on the season. Mincey also has recorded a pair of quarterback hurries. Joe Cohen has tallied eight tackles and a forced fumble playing the other side.

Linebacker Earl Everett has 18 tackles, a forced fumble, a sack, and a tackle for loss. Everett plays much like former Gators great Mike Peterson. Outside linebacker Travis Harris has nine tackles. The bright spot at linebacker has been the play of true freshman Brandon Siler. The Orlando native certainly fills a need, providing some much needed depth. Siler though has been productive. He has recorded 10 tackles, including a tackle for loss, and a pass break up for the Gators.

Analysis: The Razorbacks did not protect quarterback Matt Jones very well last weekend, giving up three sacks versus Alabama. The speed of Alabama's outside rush off the tackles forced Jones to make plays on the run. However, the Hogs have size and run blocking ability which has sprung their backs for 896 yards and a solid 4.7 yards per carry average. The Gators have to keep the Arkansas running game in check and force them to throw. Obviously, that means keeping Jones from using his running ability to make plays. Florida was able to do that with Kentucky's Shane Boyd, but again, Jones is a more dangerous runner than Boyd. Florida did a solid job against the Kentucky run, and after some much needed adjustments did the same against the Vols. The Razorbacks front will want to get physical. Can the Gators play a little smash mouth with the Hogs? Can they slow Jones down while doing so? If the Gators are going to do so, they have to play with more emotion than they displayed in Knoxville.

Slight Edge:

GATOR SECONDARY VS. HOGS SKILL POSITIONS

Through the first four games of the 2004 season, Arkansas leads the SEC in total offense and ranks only behind Florida in pass offense. The Florida defensive front received an early scout team performance if you will courtesy of Kentucky quarterback Shane Boyd. The Wildcat signal caller does some of the same things as Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones, but not nearly as well. Jones is the undisputed leader of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Beginning in his third year as the starter, Jones has the uncanny ability to drive defensive coordinators nuts. Or is that Nutt. The 6'6 237 Fort Smith native is a pure athlete. He needs only 122 yards to break the SEC record for most rushing yards by a quarterback. Jones has torched defenses for 2,158 yards on the ground. The current record is held by former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond, 1980-83.

Jones also has played basketball for the Razorbacks over the past two seasons. He scored six points, pulled down six rebounds, and had four steals against Billy Donovan's Florida team last February. Last year Jones set career bests against the Gators completing 20 of 30 passes for 299 yards and three fourth quarter touchdown strikes. He also rushed for 57 yards on just six carries.

Last week against Alabama, Jones rushed for 60 yards and completed 7 of 12 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception. Interestingly, Jones was sacked three times. He ranks second in passing behind Florida's Chris Leak. However, as expected, Jones leads the league in total offense.

A pair of Floridians lead the Razorbacks receiving corps. Senior split end Steven Harris (5'11 180) is among the Southeastern Conference leaders in receiving yards per game with 58. The Miami American High School graduate has hauled in 11 passes for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has a 50 yard reception to his credit. Harris is the Hogs most experienced returning receiver, and anxiously awaits meeting former rival Corey Bailey. Junior Carlos Ousley is the Razorbacks second leading receiver. Ousley, a former Jacksonville Englewood product, has caught 9 passes for 102 yards. The 6'0 186 junior is an outstanding athlete. He originally signed with Wake Forest out of Englewood, but left after one semester and transferred to Arkansas. Ousley helped Englewood to the state title game in basketball.

The Razorbacks like to dump the ball off to big fullback Peyton Hillis. The 6'2 240 true freshman was an first team All-American selection out of Conway, Arkansas. He has eight receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown. Hillis is also heavily depended on close to the end zone. He is the Razorbacks leader with five rushing touchdowns. He only has 23 carries, yet five are for scores. Hillis also doesn't have a run for more than 10 yards.

The Hogs have three other receivers who have secured playing time. True freshman Marcus Monk stands 6'6 and weighs 205 pounds. He also may be the best overall athlete among the wide receivers. Monk is a sound football player who was also Arkansas' Mr. Basketball as a senior. He has caught seven passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore Chris Baker is one of the fastest wideouts in the conference. The 6'1 193 split end has caught five passes for 148 yards and a touchdown. Bryan, Texas sophomore Cedric Washington is a 6'0 receiver who is a tremendous athlete as well. Washington was signed as a quarterback, but has hauled in six passes for 127 yards and a score.

Arkansas has had some tremendously talented running backs through the years. This year is no exception. DeCori Birmingham averages 6.0 yards per carry, ripping the likes of Texas and Alabama for big yardage. The 5'11 200 senior has 253 yards on 41 carries and has also proven to be a productive receiver. Birmingham has caught four passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. De'Arrius Howard is a powerful 6'0 228 tailback who has 48 carries for 234 yards and three touchdowns.

The Florida secondary did a sound job on a pretty good Kentucky passing game. They held Boyd and company to 17 receptions for 134 yards on the day. At least we assume that Kentucky has a pretty good passing attack. We probably won't know for certain until late October.

Cornerbacks Dee Webb and Reynaldo Hill both had their best performances of the young season. That is not saying a lot considering the overall level of competition, but anything productive is a bonus at this point. Safeties Corey Bailey, Jarvis Herring, and Terrance Holmes played well too. Hot Tamale' recorded his first pop on a receiver, which is an identity this defense needs to acquire.

Coach Nutt said of the Alabama defensive backs, "Their corners did a good job of disrupting our timing by jamming us at the line of scrimmage. That's the first team that's really done that, where they actually press us." The Gators have to employ these traits into their style as well.

Analysis: The key for the Gators is to make Jones throw the football. That is a tall order for a Florida secondary that has yet to prove that they can be depended on. Considering the Hogs have the second best passing attack in the league makes this equally risky. The Gators have to take advantage of any turnover opportunities. Florida will have to build on any positives they can find. Birmingham and Howard are very good running backs. Hillis acts as the Hogs version of Mike Alstott. Look out for him close to the endzone. Noise should also be a factor. The Razorback offense will be playing their first game on the road. Five new starters on the O-Line and several new faces among the skills people should provide some opportunities for the Gators fans to disrupt things a bit. Jones is the difference.

Edge:

GATOR COACHES VS. WILDCAT COACHES

Ron Zook's move to promote Larry Fedora to offensive coordinator looks at the moment like one of the bright spots during his tenure at Florida. The Gators lost no continuity because replaced Ed Zaunbrecher remains on staff as quarterbacks coach. Zook also replaced secondary coach Mike Woodford with Dan Disch, the former Head Coach at Jacksonville Ed White High School. Disch has coached several talented players into the collegiate level and now he'll get the opportunity to get them into the league. Most of the rest of the Florida staff has been intact for three years. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is among the most respected coaches in the country. Zook, 18-11 has compiled a .621 winning percentage.

Arkansas Head Coach Houston Nutt (51-28) has guided the Hogs to five consecutive winning seasons, including two SEC Western Division titles. His .646 winning percentage ranks among the best ever for a coach after five years at Arkansas. Under Nutt, the Razorbacks have participated in five consecutive bowl games as well. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack helped run those solid defenses at Southern Miss from 1994-2000.

Analysis: Nutt was on the short list at Nebraska, but turned down the opportunity to remain at his Alma Mater. He is widely respected and has the Razorback program in the right direction. Zook will turn some heads with victories over Arkansas and LSU. You always want to improve with each time out, and the Gators appear to have done so. I want to see how they perform against another physical team though.

Slight Edge:

ENVIRONMENT & INTANGIBLES

Gators fans should come into "The Swamp" ready. "When you go on an opponent's field it's very hostile. You're going to get booed and sometimes you'll be standing right next to your teammate and you can't even hear what he's saying. All these things come into play and I think that's the biggest eye opener. You have to have great communication on snap count, knowing the coverages and getting the plays. You have to have great focus, that's the biggest thing on the road." Arkansas Head Coach Houston Nutt said. With the Hogs starting five new offensive linemen, an inexperienced secondary and skills position players, the best way to help the home team is to make things difficult for them to communicate. Florida fans will have to be loud. This is also a game where the Gators want to get on top early and force the Razorbacks to come from behind. This is also Arkansas' first road game of the season.
Big Edge:


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