The No. 6 Gators played their toughest opponent of the season last week, but they might be facing their trickiest opponent this week.
UF (4-1) is coming off of an emotional win over Georgia that left them with one hand on the SEC East crown. They must somehow regroup mentally and prepare to go to battle with a team that they shouldn’t have much trouble with on paper.
However, Arkansas (3-3) has been silencing its critics all season. The Razorbacks entered the year with a 19-game conference losing streak and were picked last in the preseason polls conducted by both the league’s coaches and the media. Instead, they very easily could (and probably should) be 4-2 if the officials hadn’t made an egregious error in the Auburn game. If you could draw up an ideal situation for an upset, this would be it.
Here are three positions of strength, three positions of weakness, and three players to watch for from the Razorbacks.
Three Positions of Strength
This position might be more responsible for the Razorbacks’ incredible turnaround than any other position. They rank second in the SEC in passing defense (222.2 yards per game), first in pass efficiency defense (117.05) and first in interceptions (12). Hudson Clark, a lanky 6-foot-2 cornerback, is tied for the league lead with three interceptions and has broken up two additional passes. Montaric Brown starts on the opposite side and has intercepted a pass and broken up two. Jalen Catalon and Joe Foucha are a pair of undersized safeties who have combined for four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Arkansas plays a lot of man-to-man coverage, and the defensive backs are very aggressive when it comes to breaking on balls. So, this might be a game where Kyle Trask has to be willing to take the underneath throws and go on some longer drives.
Arkansas has the top-2 tacklers in the conference in Grant Morgan (70 tackles) and Bumper Pool (64). They’re not just your old-school linebacker that’s big and physical but can’t run, either. They’re tied for the team lead with four passes defended, and Morgan returned an interception for a touchdown against Ole Miss. They’ve also combined for 1.5 sacks, so they are highly versatile. Though they fly under the radar at a program like Arkansas, Morgan and Pool are two of the best all-around players in the conference.
The Razorbacks are run-first on offense, as they’ve run it 56.3 percent of the time this season. They have a pair of skilled running backs toting the rock. Rakeem Boyd is a powerful runner who’s had a sluggish season, gaining just 253 yards on 70 carries (3.6 yards per carry). However, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and averaged more than six yards per carry in 2019, so he’s probably due for a breakout game. The diminutive Trelon Smith is an all-around weapon. He’s carried it 70 times for 323 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and caught 17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. Everything the Razorbacks try to do offensively centers around their running backs.
Three Positions of Weakness
Arkansas is still behind in the trenches as they try to climb back into the SEC’s upper echelon. They’re giving up 179.3 rushing yards per game, which is 13th in the league, and they’re averaging 1.83 sacks per game, which is eighth. They’re undersized and light on experience. Only four of the 10 players listed on their depth chart weight 290 pounds or more. Seven of the 10 are sophomores and freshmen. Ends Eric Gregory and Dorian Gerald have been the most productive but with just 1.5 sacks apiece. The Gators should be able to run the ball better than they have all season, and Trask should have plenty of time to throw. That’s a bad combination.
They aren’t any better upfront on the other side of the ball. Despite having a pair of talented running backs, they rank just ninth in the league with 138.2 rushing yards per game and 11th with 3.4 yards per rush. They’ve scored just two rushing touchdowns this season, which is tied with Vanderbilt for the fewest. Even though they have a decently mobile quarterback in Feleipe Franks, they’re tied for last in the league with 19 sacks surrendered. Unlike the defensive front, they do have plenty of size and experience. Three of their starters weigh more than 305 pounds, including 6-foot-6, 325-pound left tackle Myron Cunningham. Upperclassmen comprise half of their two-deep. For whatever reason, that experience hasn’t translated to solid play yet.
The Razorbacks rank 12th in the conference in net punt average (35.1 yards), tied for 10th in field goal percentage (66.7 percent), 13th in punt return average (1.5 yards) and 10th in kickoff return average (18 yards). With the field expected to be a little wet following Tropical Storm Eta, this has the potential to be a disaster for them. Kicker A.J. Reed missed a 21-yard field goal attempt in their last game versus Tennessee. Special teams usually play a large role in upsets, but the Razorbacks don’t appear to be capable of producing game-changing plays on special teams.
Three Players to Watch
Wide Receiver Treylon Burks
Burks is Franks’ favorite target. He’s caught 31 passes for 461 yards and five touchdowns. The sophomore was the highest-ranked recruit to sign with the Razorbacks in three years, and he possesses an unusual combination of size and athleticism. At 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, he has the size and physicality of a tight end or linebacker, and he excels at going up and high-pointing the ball. However, he also has enough speed to make defenders miss and create explosive plays. They’ll get him involved in a myriad of ways, including handoffs, as he’s carried the ball nine times for 52 yards. Locating Burks prior to the play is a must for UF’s defense.
Quarterback Feleipe Franks
He’s completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 1,428 yards with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. If you remove sacks from the equation, he’s also added 274 rushing yards on 54 carries (5.1 yards per carry). As Gator fans certainly remember, Franks possesses perhaps the strongest arm in the country. His mobility and ability to make throws to all parts of the field will challenge UF’s defense. The Gators got lucky that Georgia’s quarterbacks missed a handful of wide-open receivers deep down the field last week. They won’t be as fortunate this week. Franks is one of the nation’s premier deep-ball throwers.
Linebacker Bumper Pool
The 6-foot-2, 229-pound junior finished second on the team with 94 tackles in 2019. He’s always around the ball, as evidenced by his 20-tackle, two-passes-broken-up performance against Mississippi State in week two that earned him the SEC co-Defensive Player of the Week honor. Those 20 tackles are the most in the FBS this season. He made 14 tackles, including three for losses, against Texas A&M two weeks ago. If the Razorbacks pull off the upset, Pool figures to be one of the biggest reasons why.