BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Florida is coming off a humbling 43-20 loss to rival and No. 1 Georgia, but Gators head coach coach Billy Napier feels his squad has the right mindset to bounce back at home on Saturday morning.
That’s when Florida (5-3, 3-2) will host Arkansas (2-6, 0-5) in an 11 a.m. game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, more commonly known as The Swamp.
“I feel the same way I’ve felt about our group,” Napier said on Wednesday’s SEC Teleconference. “Much like I said after the game, I think our team, we’ve got good people in that room. I think the character makeup of the group, the leadership, and the accountability is healthy.
“We’ve been dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s here so far this week. I think this group is loyal to each other and they want to do their best for each other. I think that’s a good quality to have.”
Florida has given up over 39 point in three of its last four games while splitting that quartet of contests.
“Well, ultimately we’re chasing consistency,” Napier said. “I think we’re trying to put the best performances of parts of our team together. I think ultimately I think that’s what I would like to see down the stretch, can we put it all together on the same day?
“I think we’ve had some bright spots in all parts of our team. But the consistency of doing that and playing really complimentary football is really important.
“Ultimately I think that’s what we’ve been pursuing and I do think we’ve seen improvement, a lot of individual players growing up and getting better. We’re just trying to put it all together.”
Florida is 4-0 at home so far this season with wins over McNeese State (49-7), Tennessee (29-16), Charlotte (22-7) and Vanderbilt (38-14), 1-2 on the road and lost its neutral site game to Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Gators are having a Saluting Those Who Serve Day to honor first responders and the military community on Saturday in which the team will wear black uniforms for the first time in school history.
Florida, where the sports drink Gatorade was invented by scientists in the 1960s, will also use black Gatorade bottles and black Gatorade towels and has urged the crowd to wear that color as well.
“This place is special for a lot of reasons,” Napier said of his team’s home stadium. “But I think in our league playing at home is an advantage. I think every coach and player will tell you that, especially when got a group of fans that are into it and ready to go.
“I think that Saturday is special for a lot of reasons. I think we’re wearing black uniforms for the first time in the history of the school. But ultimately it’s not about the uniform but about the cause and creating some awareness and some gratitude for the cause behind the uniform.
“The Swamp is a special place. I think there have been a lot of great competitors walk out of that tunnel. A lot of great teams, a lot of great coaches and I do think we’ve got a passionate fanbase that can impact the game. We’re hopeful that Saturday they’ll be there early and they’ll be at their very best. We’re going to need them.”
Florida is 10-2 all-time against Arkansas, whose last game in The Swamp was a 63-35 loss in 2020.
This Razorback team will come in on a six-game losing streak with the latest defeat being a 7-3 listless home loss to Mississippi State.
Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman fired first-year offensive coordinator Dan Enos after the loss and elevated wide receivers coach and former Ohio State quarterback Kenny Guiton to the post ahead of last week’s bye.
Razorback quarterback KJ Jefferson (6-3, 248) heads an offense that Pittman said will focus on tempo and a reduced playbook that fits the offense better.
“Well, I mean, first of all, he’s a big, physical player,” Napier said of Jefferson. “He’s a big man, he’s athletic, and tough to tackle. An accomplished passer when you really evaluate his career. He’s done a really good job being a leader there. They’ve had some great wins.
“He’s a guy who takes tremendous pride in his role. I think just watching him as a whole and throughout his career, I’ve always had a ton of respect for him as a player and a leader. I think the dual-threat component, combined with the accuracy and the arm talent, he’s a tough matchup.”
Arkansas could also get back tailback Rocket Sanders, who had over 1,400 yards rushing last season, but has missed most of this season due to injury.
“Certainly, you know, we’ve got a process that we began late last week with the second tier of the staff in terms of prep (for Gutoton and Arkansas,” Napier said. “But, I think they’ve got a great group of players. Obviously, the quarterback is a fantastic player and is a very accomplished, veteran player. Big, long up front, can play with power. They’ve got unique skill players.
“So it is a challenge, and I think for the same reason you’re asking the question, I think there are things that come with that. That’s kind of what I mentioned earlier that are a little bit unique. So, we’re working hard on it. Have a ton of respect for Coach Guiton. Obviously, he was a very accomplished player and he’s got a good career as an assistant coach, and I know he’ll be excited for the opportunity.”
As he did during a Monday press conference, Napier surmised that Arkansas is better than its record would indicate.
“Arkansas presents a number of challenges,” Napier said. “This is a critical week. They’ve played a lot of close games, they went toe-to-toe with Alabama, A&M, Ole Miss, LSU. You know, this is a group that has been very competitive and the defense is the strength of their team.
“And certainly, they’ve made a change on offense, so I think that creates some challenges for you. So, big week for our team, and right in the middle of preparing for that opportunity.”
Arkansas offensive lineman Josh Braun is at transfer from Florida.
“A ton of respect for Josh,” Napier said. “Josh was a class act and a guy that, really smart, had character, did a good job while I was here I thought he did a good job representing the university. Got a degree. (I) wish him nothing but the best.”
Photo courtesy of Florida athletics