The Florida Gators got off to yet another slow start in a year full of them. But this time, they had plenty of time to recover against the Arkansas Razorbacks, and swung the game fully back in their favor for a 30-10 win on Saturday night.
The Gators, who lead the country in rush defense, giving up just over 53 yards per game, allowed nearly 100 yards on the ground to the Razorbacks, who rode Alex Collins early and ended the opening quarter with a 7-0 lead over the Gators.
But the Gators plodded their way back into the game, and after a field goal by back-up kicker Brad Phillips -- who replaced starter Austin Hardin after Hardin's first attempt was blocked earlier in the game -- Loucheiz Purifoy showed why he's a potential All-SEC performer by returning an interception for a touchdown.
The Gators rolled into the half from there. Solomon Patton took a Tyler Murphy pass for a 51-yard touchdown right before the half to put the Gators up 17-7. Patton outran the entire Razorback secondary, magically producing a touchdown when it appeared the Gators were settling for a field goal right before the half.
By completing eight of 13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown in the first half, Murphy continued his solid play since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel during the Tennessee game. About the only thing not working in the first half for the Gators was the running game, as both Matt Jones and Mack Brown struggled to get things going from the opening kickoff.
The second half brought more of the same from both teams. Florida's defense stepped up in a big way, and Patton yet again ran past the Razorback defense for yet another long touchdown, pegging Florida to a familiar 24-7 lead.
After a field goal by the Razorbacks and a failed surprise onside kick attempt, the Gators began to impose their will (sort of) by going to their bread and butter running of the football. Brown, Jones and Murphy all combined for runs to put the game away and Patton continued his solid rise in the receiving game by pulling down an important reception to keep a drive going.
Things got worse for the Razorbacks at the start of the fourth quarter, when Dante Fowler Jr., who was flagged for a late hit on the play, knocked out starting quarterback Brandon Allen who left holding his chest/hand. Allen's injury was one of many sustained by Arkansas players on the night.
Nice punt returns from Trey Burton and Purifoy both game Florida excellent field position late, but the Gators wouldn't put the game out of reach until a late touchdown reception on a shovel pass by Valdez Showers. (Phillips missed the extra point after this score, giving the game its funky final 30-10 count.)
And things only really got interesting in the second thanks to flags. Starting center Jonathan Harrison was ejected for a penalty which involved contact with an official. Before Harrison's penalty, the Gators hadn't been penalized at all -- progress, in a sense -- but after it, the Gators were flagged seven more times for 69 yards, including four other penalties that moved the chains for Arkansas. (A sixth penalty that would have moved the chains was declined.)
Murphy finished his night with 16 completions on 22 attempts for 240 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Patton ended his day with six receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
Burton and Quinton Dunbar combined for six catches and 99 yards in another solid performance by the two of them. An unexpected highlight in the receiving game was Tevin Westbrook's catch in the second quarter, which moved the chains despite being just the second catch by a Florida tight end in the 2013 season.
On the ground, Jones finished with 17 carries for 50 yards while Brown finished with 11 carries for 39 yards. Murphy added seven carries for just 15 yards in a game in which he had no designed runs that were first options. But, for the first time that I can remember, the Gators failed to find the end zone on the ground.
All in all, though, this was a very solid performance for the Gators, in which they had what I would call their first complete game of the season. Beating the Razorbacks soundly is nice, and with LSU looming large next Saturday, a complete game was good to see.