FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is coming off a bye week and now heads to The Swamp to face Florida.
Florida (5-3, 3-2) is coming off a big loss to Georgia at a neutral site in Jacksonville, Fla. The Gators are undefeated at home this season including a 29-16 win over Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 16. That was the most impressive win on the Gators slate thus far this season. Sam Pittman has a lot of respect for them.
“A lot of team speed,” Pittman said. “You really want to stay out of third-and-long. They’ve got a lot of stuff. So we’re having to figure out exactly how we’re attacking that. We’ve got an idea of how we think we can win third down. But they’re a lot like Georgia was. Odd front with four-man front, a lot of field pressure, a lot of boundary free safety pressure. Third down, big-time exotic team.
“Offensively, they want to get the ball to the edge, whether it’s stretch, with the reverses. I really like what they’re doing offensively. They’re hiding the football. It’s old-school, Wing-T, who has the ball? It’s not Wing-T, but you get the idea they want you to figure out where the ball is a little late. A lot of dressing pre-snap and post-snap. They’re really wanting to attack the edges, no matter what that might be. A lot of reverses, a lot of jet sweeps. They’ve got two, at least two, really good running backs that they love to run the stretch with, and they’re both really good players. Their quarterback is very accurate. Doesn’t throw a lot of deep balls, but the balls that he throws, he’s very, very accurate. Very good player.”
Graham Mertz is the Florida quarterback who previously played at Wisconsin. Mertz has completed 195-of-257 passes for 2,127 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“A lot of play action, a lot of naked throws, a lot of bubbles,” Pittman said. “Not a lot of shots. Not a lot of long balls, let’s say that. They attempt those, but I would say a majority of their passes are within that 10 yards and under. On fourth down against South Carolina, they threw one out there about plus-3 and they needed 11 and the guy just made a play.
“They’ve got two — they got more, but 1 (Ricky Pearsall) and 3 (Eugene Wilson III) as wideouts are really good players. One of them is a freshman (Wilson). But they’re not asking him, to me, to sit in there and read the full field all the time. Now they do, obviously, but to me, they run a lot of things that he can do and he does well. Therefore, they’re not putting him in a lot of positions where he’s throwing it up for grabs.”
Pearsall leads the Gators with 50 receptions for 718 yards and three touchdowns. Wilson has caught 37 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns. Billy Napier is in his second season at Florida. He has a record of 11-10 overall and 6-7 in the SEC.
“I like Billy a lot,” Pittman said. “Came up through Louisiana and did a wonderful job there at the university. I know the O-line coach, Rob Sale, on the staff and have a lot of respect for Billy. He’s got them playing really hard. They’ve got a good team. It was a heck of a win against South Carolina a couple weeks ago to come back like that, down 10. But I have a lot of respect for them. I think the whole coaching community has a lot of respect for Billy.”
Pittman was asked how many times he has taken teams to The Swamp? The Hogs lost there 63-35 in Pittman’s first season, but Barry Odom served as head coach for that game.
“We played them when I was at Western Michigan,” Pittman said. “I think in that single year at Tennessee they came to Tennessee. I haven’t been many times to The Swamp, because obviously when I was at Georgia we played them over at Jacksonville. I can’t remember. Northern Illinois, we went there. But I can’t remember going there much. I had COVID the last time we went there, so I didn’t get to go. I’m sure I’ll remember something when I leave about when I went over there, but there haven’t been many times I don’t think.”
Arkansas has one former Gator on its roster in Joshua Braun, who starts at right guard. Pittman talked about the Florida transfer who is in his first season at Arkansas.
“Josh is tough,” Pittman said. “He’s played hurt quite a bit this year. I think he’ll be as healthy as has been all season. I’m sure it’ll be an exciting point for him to go back to Florida and to be able to play in that game. He’s a quiet kid so he would never say anything, but obviously, anyone that transfers from somewhere and they go back and have the opportunity to play, they want to play well. Maybe a little extra motivation there.
“Josh has had a good season for us. Lord knows where we’d be if he didn’t come in here. I look for him to continue to improve each week and he still has 2 years after this to help us on further than that.”
Arkansas and Florida will kickoff at 11 a.m. on Saturday and televised on ESPN2.