Ciatrick Fason, evoking memories of Emmitt Smith, looks to build on the best game of his career when he leads Florida in a Southeastern Conference matchup with Arkansas on Saturday.
Fason ran for a career-high 210 yards and two touchdowns to lift the 16th-ranked Gators (2-1, 1-1) over Kentucky 20-3 on Saturday, hours before Hurricane Jeanne hit the state.
“Not since Emmitt Smith’s time have we had someone rush like that,” Florida coach Ron Zook said. “It’s great to see all his hard work paying off. He keeps plugging away every day and doing what he’s supposed to do.”
Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 17,536 yards, has the top two rushing games in school history. Fason’s was fourth.
Fason has rushed for 396 yards and three touchdowns while catching 11 passes for 93 yards and a score to lead Florida’s offense.
Gators quarterback Chris Leak anchors the passing game, and now looks to bounce back from his worst performance of the season.
Leak completed 25 of 43 passes for 261 yards Saturday, but threw three interceptions—two in the red zone—largely negating Florida’s 523 yards. In the third quarter, he also overlooked a wide-open Fason on a fourth-and-goal situation at the Kentucky 3, instead hitting Chad Jackson outside the end zone for a pointless 2-yard gain.
“You see that all the time with quarterbacks,” Zook said. “Some of his throws were off and some of them were late, but he’s still a great player. He’s the type of guy you don’t have to worry about.”
Leak has completed 63 percent of his passes for 791 yards and seven touchdowns.
Florida rebounded on defense following a 30-28 loss to then-No. 13 Tennessee on Sept. 18. The Gators held Kentucky to 10 first downs and 207 yards of offense, including 73 rushing on 27 carries. The Wildcats also were forced to punt seven times, committed two turnovers and turned the ball over once on downs.
It was the first time Florida held an SEC opponent without a touchdown since shutting out Mississippi State in 2001.
Arkansas (3-1, 1-0) won its SEC opener Saturday, beating Alabama 27-10 in a game that coach Houston Nutt said would prove the true test of his inexperienced players.
“I’m really proud of this team,” he said. “What a great win for our program. We’re going to learn a lot from this.”
Freshman Peyton Hillis scored two touchdowns, Matt Jones ran for one score and threw for another and De’Arrius Howard ran for 64 yards for the Razorbacks. Hillis had several key plays, including the go-ahead touchdown on a one-handed catch and two rugged 1-yard runs to keep a scoring drive alive.
Jones, who had not been sacked in three games, was under pressure all day and was dropped in the backfield four times for a loss of 29 yards. He finished the game with nine runs for 60 yards and a touchdown and was 7-for-12 passing with one touchdown and an interception.
Jones has completed 61 percent of his passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns.
Florida leads the all-time series 4-1.