Posted: 8:00 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
Florida beat Arkansas, 30-10, on Saturday. You can relive the game through our Game Thread. The Rapid Recap is our comprehensive first look before a second full viewing of each Gators game. It will usually run within 24 hours of the game's end, and we're going to try to publish it at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings — so it can be used as a companion to Sun Sports' "Breakfast With the Gators" broadcast of the replay of Florida's Saturday game.
A slow start, a stretch of strong defense and solid offense, and a big play or two: It's the new normal for the Florida Gators, and Tyler Murphy's ability to hew to that pattern has gotten the Gators three wins since losing Jeff Driskel for the 2012 season, and two since losing Dominique Easley. This one, a slow-motion shutdown of Arkansas, was perhaps the most impressive of the bunch — because of how Florida came by its points, and how much it left on the field.
Florida's offense struggled early, sputtering to a punt and a long field goal attempt that would be blocked in the first quarter, and Florida's defense had another typically slow start as it adjusted to an Arkansas offense that bullied the Gators up front and threw smartly early. That got Florida a 7-0 hole to dig out of at the end of the first quarter.
But the Gators dug hard in that second quarter, with a fine drive that terminated in Brad Phillips hitting a chip shot field goal, and with big plays from both Loucheiz Purifoy and Solomon Patton. Purifoy's, a perfunctory interception that he turned into a pick-six with speed and patience, gave the Gators the lead; Patton's, an electrifying catch-and-run on a seemingly aimless drive near the end of the first half, made the lead unassailable.
This game belonged to the players who made those two big plays happen — and to Murphy, and to Florida's defense, but mostly to Purifoy and Patton. They're more similar than you think, and I'm very happy to be able to praise both of 'em together.
Neither one was ever really a name that Florida fans knew as both players were recruited: Purifoy was an athletic project from the Panhandle who came in with enough audacity in his makeup to put on Tim Tebow's number, and Patton, from Mobile, Alabama, was a forgotten man in the 2010 recruiting class, overshadowed by bigger names and the redshirt refugee from the 2009 class — Andre Debose — at his position. Purifoy made his mark on special teams early and in flashes on defense in 2012, and Patton matched him with flashes on sweeps and reverses, but Patton suffered a season-ending broken collarbone against Georgia in 2012, killing his progression, while Purifoy, despite inconsistencies in coverage, was hailed for much of the offseason as a future NFL star.
Until Saturday night, Patton had been having a much better 2013 season by far; after the game, in which Purifoy forced two turnovers and scored a touchdown and Patton burned Arkansas for two touchdowns of his own, you can remove the "by far," at least. Purifoy's first forced turnover didn't lead to points, but it was the finest defensive play of the night: The speedy corner streaked in on a blitz, hammered Brandon Allen, and got on the ball to give Florida a chance to take the lead from deep in Arkansas territory. His second was easier, thanks to a gift of a poor throw from Allen, but Purifoy still found paydirt to truly announce his arrival in 2013 — and with any less, his first career interception wouldn't have felt right.
But Patton's plays were the most impressive of the night. They were really deceptively simple, and eerily similar to each other, just catches in space that allowed Patton to put a move on one man and sprint to the near corner of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium's north end zone. On both, Patton showed his exceptional quickness and surprising top-end speed, the kind that either eliminates angles defenders might have initially had on him or leaves them susceptible to easy cutbacks like the one Patton used on his second touchdown. Patton's now scored three touchdowns that required him to run at least 35 yards to the same part of the end zone at home, and, with his six receptions for 124 yards on the night, has two 100-yard games this year, the most by a Florida receiver since Riley Cooper had three in 2009.
And Purifoy and Patton could well have not gotten here. Purifoy could have not attacked football — and special teams — with the ferocity that his coaches have honed into a dangerous multi-tool, and could have let his 2013 season turn into potential wasted reading press clippings instead of necessitating them; Patton could have left like many of his classmates did, or lost heart after his serious injury. Neither player did those things, and I'm so happy that they didn't.
Because now we're here, where Purifoy can stare out at a crowd that loves him as much as he loves it after scoring a touchdown and soak up its love, and where Patton can score a touchdown and blow a kiss, presumably to the fiancée and mother of his daughter that, if you follow him on Instagram, you can tell he clearly loves dearly. Here is home, for Loucheiz Purifoy and Solomon Patton. Home is a good place to be.
We have reached the end of the easier portion of the season-long test that Tyler Murphy is taking. Through three games, he's turned in three As — and the work is getting better.
Saturday night, we saw a Murphy who basically wasn't running, except on passing plays he extended with his feet, and yet I swore he had nearer to 50 rushing yards than the 15 he finished with. (Murphy was sacked twice and lost 14 yards, so he had 29 rushing yards on five carries without sacks.) He completed 16 of 22 passes for 240 yards, a new career high and more than Jeff Driskel threw for in any game in 2012. He calmly handled a couple of bad snaps, and smoothly worked through progressions, and repeatedly put passes where receivers could get them, and he's now on his third straight game of looking like a more composed quarterback than Driskel ever has.
Though I suspect that Arkansas will be no better than the fifth-best SEC team Florida sees this year, and Murphy's three games have thus come against three teams from the bottom half of Florida's SEC opponents, though I will always be leery of making judgments based on my eyes and gut that my brain balks at, and though we cannot know how Driskel would have played against these teams, I feel this much is true: Tyler Murphy is a very good quarterback, and so good at the things Florida needs of its quarterbacks that I feel no more than fractionally less good about Florida's offense because Murphy, not Driskel, is the man taking snaps.
The Driskel vs. Murphy debate is tiresome, and has been poisoned from the beginning by toxic blame from those who do not forgive or forget reasons to blame. "Those who do not forgive or forget" is, of course, an apt descriptor of diehard college football fans, but some folks in Florida's big tent have seemingly forgotten that Driskel's first seven games in 2012 went just about like Murphy's first three have, except with Driskel doing more spectacular things and getting less from his wide receivers. It will probably bug me all year that Murphy will probably get praise for leading a more talented, better-coached, better-tailored offense, while Driskel becomes He Who Fortuitously Got Hurt in the eyes of a fan base that demands so, so much from its quarterbacks. And Tebow forbid Murphy, who has yet to play against a team that will make a bowl, make a mistake in a big game: He'll either be showered by the same vitriol the brilliant but erratic Driskel got for his mistakes, or get the benefit of the doubt in a way Driskel didn't, neither of which is a good thing.
But, honestly: If we can all agree to evaluate Murphy on his merits alone — without applying the insanely demanding curve that Driskel got, without picking at the scabs of quarterback play that has left scars on Gator Nation's psyche, without letting the shadows that towering predecessors cast obscure what is unique and good about Murphy — I think we will really enjoy watching a young quarterback taking his chance to flourish and doing a lot with it. That's how I'm choosing to watch Tyler Murphy from now on, and I'd be honored if you'd join me in that approach.
The most consistent source of first downs for Arkansas on this night? Florida penalties in the second half, which gave the Razorbacks five of their 17 first downs. Nothing else was all that consistent.
Arkansas had a lot of success early by getting Alex Collins room to run, but after racking up 53 yards on his first six carries, Collins had just seven more carries on the night. Brandon Allen threw for 164 yards on the night, but they came on 41 attempts, and 61 of those yards came on two pass plays; the 40-odd pass plays that weren't those two big gains — both resulting from well-designed, well-executed plays — generally ended in incompletions, largely because of drops, and misery for Allen, battered like a ship in a storm all night. Three Arkansas players averaged at least eight yards per carry; they had five combined carries.
Tempted though I am to lay a lot of that at the doorstep of the Razorbacks who made big plays and blew a ton of little ones, in no way reflecting their coach's persona, Florida's defense had a lot to do with that, whether by sealing the holes that Collins and others ran through, by cloaking the receivers on most of those passes that weren't drops, or by hammering Allen. The longest Arkansas drive of the night was its final drive, and yet 30 yards of the 72 it covered were handed over by dumb Florida penalties, and it produced no points after Florida staged a goal-line stand for the sake of pride alone.
That stand, keyed by a tremendous blitz and sack from Cody Riggs on one of the few snaps Florida brought extra rushers on all night, was the last act from a defense that outclassed its offensive counterpart once again, a final snarl from a beast that just doesn't like to give ground. The claws get sharper from here on out, but pride, talent, and coaching each go a long way for defenses, and the Gators have all three in spades.
Florida wide receivers combined for 12 catches for 223 yards. Joker Phillips is awesome at his job, and he might make a good physicist, considering how he's made what was a black hole a bright spot. Patton doesn't need more words here, but he's the quick, small guy, Trey Burton's the reliable slot guy, and Quinton Dunbar's the shifty guy who can go up and get passes. As long as they keep getting as open as they've been getting all year, all three of those players will keep getting passes from Murphy.
And though there's still a frisson of something when Florida trots Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood out onto the field, it's becoming increasingly likely that Florida, in what I sincerely think is one of the shocking developments of the year in college football, has had playmakers at wide receiver all along, but failed to put those players in position to make plays — and now that they're in those positions, they are making plays, making hopes for saviors a little less fervent and the purported saviors a little less necessary.
And, hell, Florida even pretended it uses tight ends in the passing game for a play. Fun for everyone!
I thought Florida's running game did a rather poor job on this night, and the numbers, even if you strip out Murphy's 14 yards lost on sacks, suggest I'm right: 39 non-kneel carries for 115 yards with those sacks, 37 non-kneel carries for 129 yards without. That's either 2.95 yards per carry or 3.49 yards per carry, and even the better stat is worse than what the top 100 rushing teams in college football are averaging per carry this season.
Still, though, Florida ran for more than 100 yards despite really not getting push, barely getting mediorce nights from Matt Jones and Mack Brown, and not deploying most of its tricks in the running game. (I think I saw one read option? Purifoy came out on the field on offense at one point, but then a penalty made him trot back to the sideline.) A commitment to a running game, even a bad one, forces a defense to stay honest enough on downs that aren't obvious passing downs to open up holes in the underneath and intermediate passing game, and keeps the clock running — both things that Florida wants. And we had that on this night. Don't be surprised to see a little more flavor on the ground against LSU, though.
Hargreaves got burned for a few catches tonight, and would've given up about five or six had his (and most) Arkansas receivers not been using Thwomps instead of hands. And yet he kept playing the aggressive, cerebral coverage he is going to make his calling card, and kept trying to make plays on balls in the air. I am happy to learn he is not a cyborg sent to destroy humanity by demoralizing every wide receiver he sees to the point of mental breakdown.
Despite a pocket of a few hundred empty seats up high in the student section — really, y'all? — this was another live, loud crowd that got a lot of stuff to cheer and boo and reacted accordingly. Pick-sixes are always incredible fun live, Patton got a ton of stunned applause on his two touchdowns, and the two good punt returns from Burton and Purifoy got great reactions. And what remained of the crowd — the point of no return was Valdez Showers scoring plus Brad Phillips missing an extra point — rewarded the magnificent final stand with a lot of lusty cheering. I'm gonna miss The Swamp in the month between now and the next home game: It has been a wonderful place to be this year.
Florida should really be 5-0 right now, and a game in which five turnovers was one or two too many and Hargreaves's shoe size was too large is the difference between those two things. And if the Gators were 5-0, even with Murphy at the helm, they would be about No. 7 in Sunday's polls, and heading into a seismic showdown with LSU.
Instead, a 4-1 Florida team that has bored its fans and observers witness for much of the four and captivated with its capacity for self-inflicted stupidity in the one is flying a long way under the radar in the SEC East and the SEC. Georgia somehow giving up 31 points to Tennessee is yet another indicator that the East has no great team, and LSU's defense allowed 23 points to Mississippi State before its offense flicked on the afterburners. South Carolina can't seem to play 60 consecutive minutes of football without allowing a less talented team to dominate it for a stretch, and Missouri, now undefeated and flying high, just claimed its best win ... over 3-3 Vanderbilt, which has beaten Austin Peay, Massachusetts, and UAB.
But Florida's one of just two SEC teams with three conference wins, and though Georgia's already got a win over LSU in hand and Florida will almost have to beat Georgia if it can't beat LSU, Florida's set up nicely for a bowl game on the low end — better than many teams that lost their only experienced quarterback and best defensive player in September could say — and a possible trip to Atlanta on the high end. Do I think this Florida team can win a national title? No. Do I think Florida can win the SEC? Not really. But Florida has its destiny before it, and, hell, screwier things than
By the end of this game, I missed Alex Collins. You shouldn't miss the other team's best player when he's healthy — you should want to not see him at all, I think — but Arkansas still got far enough away from what it was trying to do on offense early that it didn't really matter when it got back to that in fits and starts in the second half, and Brandon Allen was forced to do so much that he will probably be strangling Bret Bielema in some of his more lurid dreams this week.
Allen got worked over, and none of his running backs got more carries than he had completions; Arkansas gave up one of the dumber kick catch interference penalties I've seen — it was pretty clear from my (bragging: excellent) seats that Purifoy only bobbled the ball because he was touched as he tried to catch it; an Arkansas return man caught a kick and stepped out within his own 5; Arkansas wasted a sweet surprise onside kick setup by going offsides on the kick; Razorbacks receivers dropped balls like that was their job; and Arkansas managed to start a fourth-quarter drive (with the game within two touchdowns!) with an unnecessary roughness penalty that negated an offsides penalty and gave it first and 17 from its own 13 (one of a hilarious four first and 15+ downs for the Hogs) ... then threw three straight incompletions, punted, gave up a big return to Purifoy, and gave up the it's-really-over-now touchdown on Florida's second consecutive drive starting in Arkansas territory.
Florida played well, more or less, on Saturday night. Arkansas did not.
Florida got the ball in Arkansas territory three times and scored seven points on those three drives. The Gators punted on one of them. There are still ways for this offense to score more points and/or suck more time off the clock, and, in time, Florida will find them.
Collins burned Florida for 30 yards on a wheel route despite pass interference. Tennessee got Purifoy on one wheel route and scored its only offensive touchdown on another. Maybe Florida should run some of them in practice, just to see if we could maybe consider that they exist.
On a similar note, Florida really seems to struggle with defending corner routes toward the boundary and in the end zone. Jaylen Watkins, who was quietly very, very good on the night, broke up one potential touchdown pass on a corner route, but that's the sort of route that has bedeviled Cody Riggs all year, and one that factored into two of Miami's three touchdowns. (A Dante Fowler PI call gave Miami a new set of downs for its game-winning touchdown.)
The incredibly simple answer to these woes is putting Hargreaves, Florida's most verstatile cover man, on duty for these routes, but that requires Hargreaves to not be filling in for the injured Marcus Roberson. If Roberson's back for LSU, a big if at the moment, I'd love to see Hargreaves play a little nickel or dime back in place of or alongside Brian Poole.
I'm reusing this from the Tennessee Rapid Recap, but Florida gets far too predictable in its offense from time to time, and could really do itself a favor by developing one of Showers, Robinson, Fulwood, or Purifoy as a threat.
Pease obviously doesn't have to care about the damage that Ed Zaunbrecher's bubble screen addiction did to Florida's fans, but he definitely overdosed on them on this night, especially in the first half. It's easy to pick them out of the play-by-play: They went for zero and a loss of five yards.
Using Patton (and Robinson, who lost the five yards) in space works, but bubble screens on the first play of the game and a drive beginning in the shadow of your own goalposts are not particularly good. And sticking with an inside running game that gets three yards a carry isn't good. And using Trey Burton in the wildcat against a team that isn't the Kentucky Wildcats is maddening — the person next to me couldn't bear to look at that play, and I got to say "You're not going to believe this, but Trey Burton kept it and lost yards."
Pease did some very good things, like using the shovel option at the exact right moment and running a funky flea-flicker, but I'd bet lunch that more Florida fans remember the bubble screen to Robinson than the flea-flicker on Monday. We like to complain.
Florida's special teams are, on balance, pretty good, because they are special teams and not just kickers and punters. Florida covers kicks very well, and covers punts very well, and was fine on kickoff returns, and may have four good punt returners on its roster — not counting Patton, who's never been used at punt returner to the best of my knowledge, and still might be better than any of the guys Florida has used.
And yet the kicking and punting portions of special teams this year have been disastrous.
Austin Hardin's blocked kick was on him, because it got about four feet off the ground. Muschamp, speaking in a postgame interview, said "It had no chance" and "I could have blocked that" in the exasperated tone you use for puppies who can't stop peeing on your shoes, and sounded more displeased with any player's on-field play than he ever has before. Brad Phillips, Hardin's replacement, made a low-stress field goal ... and missed an extra point.
Kyle Christy, on the other hand, was better in this outing than his last one in The Swamp, though not dropping a snap makes him better by default. He also shanked a punt for 15 yards, giving Arkansas fantastic field position that would be converted into three points. I've thought Christy's drop punts — the ones on which you hold the ball with the laces perpendicular to the ground, so as to get an end-over-end motion that maximizes height and hang time and acts like a wedge shot — were quite good despite his struggles all year, but he went one-for-two on them last night, putting one well into the end zone. And we just haven't seen him boom a punt like the ones he launched midway through last year — despite doing that pretty routinely in the fall practices I saw.
Christy's slide from top-five punter to just another guy is befuddling, and the kicking game's disarray is troubling, and I can't help but think moving D.J. Durkin into a more demanding role and away from special teams has something to do with both of them, but, until we figure out what's wrong or notice evidence of improvement, it's genuinely embarrassing that the special teams that were nearly flawless in 2012 have slipped so noticeably in 2013.
I was watching the entire exchange between Jonotthan Harrison and the Arkansas player he (apparently) allegedly dove at, and I was stunned that Harrison was flagged, much less ejected. He did not appear, to me, to even touch the ref, and I thought what he did was instigated — though I didn't see this alleged dive. Regardless, you cannot do anything to physically threaten a ref, because you are asking for trouble in that situation. At least Harrison, who tweeted that he'll be eligible for the trip to LSU late Saturday night, had the courtesy to rev up the south end zone on his way out.
That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments all day.