5 bold predictions for Arkansas-Florida
The past couple weeks have been rough on Arkansas. A team that looked like one of the SEC’s best on Oct. 15 suddenly doesn’t seem so hot. The Razorbacks suffered a humiliating 56-3 blowout loss to Auburn that led many to change their opinion of Bret Bielema’s squad. Not only did the team itself lose, but recent losses by Ole Miss and TCU have weakened the Hogs’ resume.
Florida, meanwhile, has established itself atop the SEC East thanks to a three-game losing streak by Tennessee. The Gators have done what is asked of them since losing to the Vols on Sept. 24, taking care of Vanderbilt, Missouri and Georgia, albeit in ugly fashion. Only one SEC East team has defeated an SEC West squad this year (Kentucky over Mississippi State), but UF is favored to win in Fayetteville.
Here are five bold predictions for the cross-divisional showdown:
1. Luke Del Rio has his best game of the season: Early in the season, Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio looked like he had everything figured out. In Week 2, Del Rio was 19-of-32 for 320 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Offensively, everything worked. The Gators scored with the deep pass, the ground game and everything in between.
The offense hasn’t been the same since, and neither has Del Rio. He was having an off night against North Texas (14-of-25, 186 yards, INT) when he left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury that forced him to miss games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
In the four weeks following the Vanderbilt game, there were two off weeks and and two games. In his return, Del Rio had his worst game of the year (18-of-38, 236 yards, TD, 3 INT) against Missouri, blaming some of it on rust. Despite having a bye week to prepare for Georgia, Del Rio didn’t look much better. The interceptions were down, but the passing offense was limited: 15-of-25, 131 yards, TD, INT.
This will be the week that Del Rio puts it all together, and tops even his Kentucky performance.
2. Arkansas holds the Gators under 150 yards rushing: After Arkansas gave up 543 rushing yards to Auburn in Week 8, it’s clear that the Gators will be able to run wild on the Razorbacks. In the words of Lee Corso, not so fast!
With two weeks to get things right, the Hogs are going to have the rushing defense tightened up and ready for the Gators’ ground game. In SEC play, the lowest rushing total allowed by Arkansas this season is 150 yards to Ole Miss. The new low will be set when the Razorbacks hold Florida under 150 rushing yards.
3. Rawleigh Williams III matches his season-high rushing yards: The Gators are coming off a strong defensive performance in which Georgia was held to 21 total yards on the ground. That would seem to indicate Arkansas RB Rawleigh Williams III is in for a tough game. Williams will have one of his best games of the season.
An important note about the UGA stats is that the Bulldogs abandoned the run too early. Chubb and Sony Michel got a total of 12 touches in a game that was decided by a total of 14 points. Florida did well in not allowing Chubb to get going, but it was only nine carries.
Florida has struggled to stop the run in true road games. Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs ran for 80 yards on 17 carries and Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb notched 110 yards on 24 rushes. Williams will benefit from a better passing game than Webb, and watch him hit his season-high mark of 180 yards from Week 7.
4. Eddy Pineiro sets a new career long: The former junior college soccer player who became a YouTube sensation and now an SEC kicker has been one of the more fun stories of Florida’s 2016 season. Pineiro is 10-of-14 on the season, inlcuding game-long field goals of 54 and 53 yards.
As a newcomer to college kicking, Pineiro has been eased into the more difficult situations. The Gators’ road schedule has worked out particuarly well for him. In a trip to Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, by far the most hostile environment UF has played in this year, the team didn’t need Pineiro to kick a field goal. At Vanderbilt the following week, Pineiro got to kick in a “road” game in which there appeared to be as many Gators fans as Commodores, if not more. His next kicking experience outside The Swamp came at Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville, which was a split crowd.
If he’s asked to kick a field goal Saturday, Donald W. Reynolds stadium will be Pineiro’s first taste of a hostile road environment. Knowing Pineiro, he’ll set a new career long.
5. Jim McElwain will channel his inner Urban Meyer: Two of the final players to commit to Florida’s 2016 recruiting were WR Tyrie Cleveland and DB Joseph Putu. Cleveland, a prized target from Houston, chose Florida over TCU and Arkansas after decommitting from Houston. Putu, a junior college transfer, was an Arkansas commitment who flipped to Florida at the last second.
When Arkansas coach Bret Bielema spoke to ESPN on signing day, he called Florida “the new Ole Miss.” In Gainesville, that was interpreted as an accusation that McElwain was cheating to sign Cleveland and Putu. Bielema later apologized to UF and Ole Miss, saying he meant it as a compliment that Florida’s recruiting reach was extending.
McElwain was complimentary of Bielema this week when discussing Arkansas with the media. That doesn’t mean he’s forgotten about the comments. If the Gators have the game in hand late, McElwain could rub it in to Bielema with a couple unnecessary timeouts.