The SEC has seen an infusion of young, energetic coaches entering its ranks in recent seasons. Kevin Sumlin has brought his air-raid offense to Texas A&M. Gus Malzahn is working out of the shotgun spread at Auburn. One new coach, however, is keeping things old-school in his first year in the league: Bret Bielema. The former Wisconsin coach wanted to run the ball and wanted to run it down teams’ throats at Arkansas. With elite true freshman Alex Collins, he has done exactly that. Collins is leading the league with 597 rushing yards.
However, will his smash-mouth mentality be enough to beat Florida for just the second time ever? Gators coach Will Muschamp, in just his third year in The Swamp, has instilled in his team the same “tough guy” mentality Bielema is hoping to in Fayetteville.
In order to run Florida’s winning streak against the Hogs to nine, Coach Boom will be leaning upon his own star running back, Matt Jones.
Jones suffered a serious viral infection late in the offseason. It forced him to miss the program’s season-opener against Toledo and he started slowly in subsequent games against Miami and then Tennessee.
However, the switch seemed to have flipped against a Kentucky squad that proved it can play defense with a close loss to Louisville earlier in the year. His 28 carries for 176 yards were both career highs in the win that moved Florida to 3-1 on the year.
Arkansas is improving, but after beating three cupcakes to open the season, has lost consecutive games to Rutgers and Texas A&M. Beating Florida will be a challenge, despite the fact that superstar defensive lineman Dominique Easley is out for the year with a torn ACL.
Big, strong, fast defensive stars such as Ronald Powell, Leon Orr, Michael Taylor, Dante Fowler, Jon Bullard and Antonio Morrison in the front seven will be looking to make life miserable for young Collins. Should they be able to do so, can quarterback Brandon Allen pass his way towards a Razorbacks win?
The sophomore suffered an injury that forced him out of the Rutgers loss, but returned to throw for 282 yards, three scores and two interceptions against the Aggies. He will be looking to two guys, one young and one old. Senior receiver Javontee Herndon leads the team with 14 receptions, 236 yards and four scores. Tight end Hunter Henry is just a freshman, but he has already hauled in 12 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown.
Can Allen find his receivers against Florida’s elite corps of defensive backs? Cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson form arguably the most talented duo at the position in the country. Did we mention true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who may just be the best player on the team already? Combine them with Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs at safety and Arkansas’ receivers may have trouble getting open.
All of that being said, however, Bielema does not care if his receivers get open. Again, he wants to run the football. He has Collins to try to make that happen. If the frosh can break through early, and perhaps score a first quarter touchdown or two, is Florida’s offense good enough to come back?
Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy has proven that, in replacing the injured Jeff Driskel, he can lead the Gators to wins. However, his receiving corps, led by Solomon Patton, Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton, is still relatively weak. Arkansas boasts a pretty strong defensive backfield themselves with Alan Turner, Eric Bennet and Tevin Mitchell.
If Arkansas can manage to take the early lead, can they bleed the clock enough offensively and play good enough defense against Florida’s conservative passing game to pull off the upset on the road?
Will the same defense-first mentality that won Mucshamp 11 games a year ago move his Gators to 4-1 on the year?
We have no idea what the answers to some of Saturday’s biggest questions may be, but perhaps you do. It’s time to settle it.