October 6, 2013

Upon Further Review: Florida wins again

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    Here are a dozen observations from Florida's 30-10 win over SEC West opponent Arkansas.

    The Gators have been waiting for a wide receiver to emerge for more than three seasons and finally found their man Saturday. Senior Solomon Patton, successfully utilized as a jet sweep runner last season before breaking his arm and being sidelined for the final five games, stepped forward in a big way with a career-highs of 124 yards and two touchdowns in a career-best-tying six receptions. It was not the first time Patton showed flashes this year. He caught six passes for 118 yards and a touchdown against Miami and followed that performance up with 73 yards and another score two weeks later against Tennessee. Those breakout games were met with cautious optimism, but Patton proved Saturday that he has truly improved as a route runner and pass catcher. He is the first Florida wide receiver since Riley Cooper in 2009 to register a pair of 100-yard games in the same season and is also the first wideout since Cooper to catch two touchdowns in a single game.

    Even including the two major miscues he committed on the evening, junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy still had the best game out of any Gators defender on Saturday by forcing two big-time turnovers. First, Purifoy stripped and sacked Hogs quarterback Brandon Allen, forcing a fumble that was recovered by redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor. Then, he electrified the crowd with a pick-six. The interception was the first of Purifoy's career, and the 42-yard return for a touchdown was just icing on the cake. Purifoy nearly turned the ball over himself on a muffed punt and was also flagged for pass interference later in the contest, but his impressive defensive plays made up for those mistakes in spades.

    Patton got the majority of the credit for Florida's impressive passing output, but the Gators had two other wide receivers that made big-time contributions. Senior Trey Burton (three receptions, 56 yards) and redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar (three receptions, 43 yards) each made some athletic plays that kept drives alive and contributed to Florida's offensive success. Burton made a great sliding catch near the sideline, and Dunbar made a pair of impressive plays including one in which he had to turn around and leap in the air simultaneously as well as another similar to Burton's on the sideline. Wide receivers coach Joker Phillips has turned UF's most lackluster unit into an impressive bunch in just one offseason. It will be interesting to see what these pass catchers can do as the season progresses.

    86 and 47. The former number represents rushing yards the Gators allowed in Razorbacks to accumulate in the first quarter, 20 more than they had given up in any singular game this season. The latter number represents the rushing yards Florida allowed over the final three quarters of the contest. Arkansas found success in the run game early, much to the dismay of head coach Will Muschamp. But once he got on the players about remaining disciplined in their gap control and keeping their eyes on the rusher, things changed in a major way both on defense and in the game as a whole.

    If he's not going to win Offensive Player of the Game, redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy needs to be recognized somewhere. Murphy completed 72.7 percent of his passes (16-of-22) for a career-high 240 yards. He also finished with a career-high three touchdowns, his third coming on an inside shovel pass to redshirt sophomore running back Valdez Showers in the fourth quarter. Murphy posted an astounding 209.4 quarterback rating on Saturday, the highest for a Gators signal caller with more than one passing attempt since Tim Tebow in 2009 (232.5 vs. Cincinnati).

    Forget the bubble, one must wonder if redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin permanently lost his job with his atrocious first-quarter field goal attempt on Saturday. After Purifoy's strip-sack fumble recovery, Hardin had an opportunity to put Florida on the board with a 48-yard field goal. Not only did he not make the kick, the ball he struck would never have made it near the goal posts. Instead, Hardin basically kicked the ball into the line of scrimmage with the result registered as a block. Though he remained on kickoff duty for the rest of the contest, he was replaced on field goals and extra points by redshirt senior Brad Phillips. After making his sole field goal attempt, a 28-yarder, Phillips missed an extra point on UF's final touchdown of the game.

    The Gators picked up 71.6 percent of its offensive yards in the passing game…and won…by their largest margin of the season (20 points). Muschamp has candidly said all along that he wants to use a power running game to open up the passing game, but with most teams unable to stop Florida's run, he and offensive coordinator Brent Pease have never bothered to show much creativity. On Saturday, the Hogs had success stopping the run early but continued to respect it all game, opening things up for the Gators' pass catchers with one-on-one match-ups on the outside. Hell, even junior Tevin Westbrook caught a pass, the second by a tight end all season long. With Murphy at the helm, Florida simply moves the ball better. Coupling a competent offense with what appears to be the most dominant defense in the nation is a very scary combination.

    This is becoming a trend, no? For the third consecutive week, the Gators' special teams was abhorrent. Not only did Hardin miss a field goal and Phillips an extra point, not only did Purifoy muff a punt that nearly led to a turnover, Florida made two other major miscues on special teams. First, junior punter Kyle Christy chose to punt the ball rugby style at one point during the game, shanked the ball and netted 15 total yards. Though he played quite well otherwise, he failed to flip the field on that attempt. Additionally, the Gators were caught completely off guard by an onside kick in the second half that they undoubtedly should have been expecting. Either the players are careless (which is certainly a possibility) or the coaches are doing an incredibly poor job reminding them to look out for fakes and on-side attempts when they take the field in situations where it would make sense for opposing coaches to call those plays. Special teams has been a strength for Florida over the last decade, but it is quickly turning into a liability…and that's not good for a team trying to win a conference title for the first time since 2008.

    Though a case could be made for Purifoy's interception, Patton's first touchdown gave the Gators a huge boost before halftime. Catching a third-down pass from Murphy on a corner route, Patton avoided a tackler, turned up the field and exploded into the end zone for a 51-yard score, crossing the goal line with 20 seconds left in the half. The touchdown gave Florida a 17-7 lead - with all 17 points coming in the second quarter - and also turned out to be the game-winning score as Arkansas only added a field goal late in the third quarter.

    The Gators remain at the top of the SEC East standings with a 3-0 record in league play and took care of business at home against an opponent they needed to beat in order to keep the ball rolling in the right direction. Murphy, Patton, Burton, Dunbar, Purifoy, Taylor and a number of other important players all took significant steps forward in their development as Florida bested a conference opponent that believed it could beat the hosts at their own game - physical, clock-dominating football. It was a huge boost of confidence for a Gators team that needed a big win before their toughest contest of the season next week.

    Florida's rushing defense was exposed early in the game, and though the Gators were stout on the final series of the contest, UF also let the Hogs drive right down the field, helping them along with some stupid penalties. It was surprising that Florida did not get flagged once in the first half but not as much of a shocker when things evened out with eight penalties for 84 costly yards in the second half. Redshirt senior center Jonotthan Harrison was also ejected from the game for touching an official (but will play next week). The Gators can be as dominant as they want to be, but Florida has to learn to play smarter, something that has been an issue for the team ever since Muschamp took over the program. Some of the better teams in the SEC will take advantage of those miscues and make UF pay in a big way.

    Florida will look for a second-straight victory against its cross-division rival LSU when it travels to Baton Rouge, LA, next Saturday in a game set to kickoff at 3:30 p.m. and air live on CBS. The Gators have not played a unanimously ranked opponent yet this season and hope to earn a victory over a team that should be listed as a top-10 program in the new polls released on Sunday. UF went 3-1 against teams ranked 10th or better in 2012 and hopes to prove wrong the doubters that believed last season's success was just a fluke.

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