It was supposed to be a statement game.
No. 11 Florida, leaders of the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division, walked into Reynolds Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Saturday ready to prove they could win a big game.
Instead, the Gators fell flat and tumbled back to reality when the defense couldn’t carry the weight of both its struggling offense and a surging Arkansas team ready for redemption.
The Razorbacks, a middle-of-the-road SEC West team led by quarterback Austin Allen and running back Rawleigh Williams III on offense and a surprisingly dominant defensive performance, figured out how to get the best of Florida throughout the game.
In the end, it resulted in a 31-10 defeat for the Gators.
“I’m very disappointed,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “The locker room’s disappointed.”
Despite the loss, UF (6-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) still controls its destiny in the SEC East, needing to win its final two conference games against South Carolina and LSU to guarantee a return trip to Atlanta for the title game.
But if Florida has a repeat of its showing from Saturday, its postseason outlook might not be that good.
Facing an Arkansas defense that ranked last in the SEC and 109th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in average rushing yards allowed (221.8), UF mustered just 12 rushing yards (37 if not including quarterback Luke Del Rio’s three sacks) and 241 yards overall -- with 114 of that total coming on the Gators’ final two drives.
Florida’s lone points came on a Duke Dawson interception returned for a touchdown and a 49-yard field goal from Eddy Pineiro with less than seven minutes left to play.
“I just felt like nothing went our way today," offensive lineman David Sharpe said.
How bad was it? Take a look at the numbers:
Del Rio, despite showing glimpses of potential after the game was already out of hand, threw two interceptions, including one on Florida’s first offensive play of the game that was returned for a touchdown. He finished the game completing 19 of his 37 pass attempts for 229 yards.
Florida, the sixth-best third-down converting offense in the country heading into the game (50.4 percent), converting one of its 11 third-down attempts. Prior to Florida’s final two drives, the Gators only had two drives that lasted more than four plays.
That, in turn, resulted in a bad day for a defense that couldn’t seem to get off the field.
A banged-up defense gave up 11 plays of at least 15 yards and allowed Arkansas (6-3, 2-3 SEC) to march down the field for 91 and 87 yards on its first two touchdown drives.
Add on the slew of injuries, and not much went right for the Gators on Saturday. Florida had 10 players go down with injuries at some point during the game. Four of them -- starting linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone, center Cam Dillard, receiver Tyrie Cleveland and kickoff returner Chris Thompson -- are unlikely to play next week in Florida’s home finale against South Carolina, McElwain said.
“We’ll choose how we come back and how we work,” McElwain said. “Look, I still like our football team. I like our guys. They understand what we let slip away. But the key is what you learn from it.”
Contact Jordan McPherson at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @J_mcpherson1126
Arkansas' Rawleigh Williams III (22) outruns Florida's Nick Washington (8) and DeAndre Goolsby (30) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas beat Florida 31-10. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)