Instant Analysis: Still seeking bowl eligibility

Florida 36 - Arkansas 39

by Zack Weiss
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Please Read: Welcome to the new-look Inside the Gators

The Gators’ penultimate home game of the season, and first-ever blackout, started out about as rough as it could’ve. But after going down two scores early, the Orange & Blue bounced back and made it an exciting one all the way to its end. Eventually, however, Arkansas was able to escape The Swamp with a 39-36 overtime win.

Inside the Gators’ Instant Analysis takes a quick look at how the game unfolded.

IT WAS OVER WHEN: Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson found redshirt senior receiver Tyrone Broden for a 5-yard score in overtime after a Florida field goal. This was Jefferson’s second touchdown throw of the day and Broden’s third catch.

THEY STOLE THE SHOW: Eugene Wilson III might just be the most exciting player on the Gators right now. The true freshman, four-star out of Tampa caught both of Florida’s first two touchdowns and, really, kept his team in this game for much of it. He hauled in five balls for 41 yards and two scores in the first half. He finished with eight catches on nine targets for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Going forward — throughout these final three games and then into next season — this guy’s someone Florida fans can feel confident in getting excited to watch.

THESE STATS DON’T LIE: I’m not sure if Arkansas is underrated or Florida’s just not as good as its record suggests, but, either way, this game looked like two evenly-matched teams going at it. And the stats back that up. Beyond just the scoreboard, it was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way through after that seesaw of a first quarter. Florida had 282 pass yards compared to Arkansas’ 255, and 112 rush yards to the Razorbacks’ 226; that’s a difference of just 87 total yards. Florida had seven penalties to Arkansas’ six, 19 first downs to their 23 and averaged just 0.6 less yards per play. Both teams converted eight third downs and went 3-3 in the red zone. The time of possession battle was a difference of just 28 seconds. This one was nearly as close as it gets.

THIS MATCHUP PROVED KEY: KJ Jefferson vs. the Shemar James-less Florida defense was a matchup the senior QB was winning handily early on, but became much more punch-for-punch as the game went on. Without James, guys did step up. Scooby Williams played a great game, vocally leading the middle of the defense and forcing a fumble late in the third quarter — which immediately led to a 32-yard Ricky Pearsall touchdown catch. Jefferson finished with 255 yards passing and 92 rushing. He threw 20-31, 2 TDs and an interception. He also ran for a score. The Florida defense finished with five sacks and six TFLs.

WHAT A PLAY: The Gators’ first offensive play — not drive, not series, but, yes, play — was quite literally as detrimental as one could be. Graham Mertz whipped a screen to Pearsall, and before he could reach the first-down marker, Arkansas’ freshman defensive back Jaylon Braxton ripped the Florida star receiver by the sideline, taking the ball right from his hands and bringing it 33 yards to the house. This put the Gators down two scores just three minutes into the game, which, looking back on it now with how the game ended up playing out, was more than the difference.

UP NEXT: Florida(5-4, 3-3) will be in Baton Rouge next weekend to take on No. 13 LSU. The Gators still need one more win for bowl game eligibility; and with their remaining schedule looking the way it does — with LSU, No. 14 Missouri, and No. 4 Florida State on deck — every outing left should be treated like it may be the last.

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