Florida 33, No. 11 Arkansas 28
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)—Arkansas was in rally mode again until a roughing-the-passer penalty saved a victory for Florida.
The Gators nearly blew a 26-point lead, but held on for a 33-28 win over the 11th-ranked Razorbacks on Saturday when Arkansas safety Tony Bua went for Chris Leak’s head on a sack attempt with a minute left.
The blow wiped out Sam Olajubutu’s interception and let the Gators run out the clock.
“You are going to take blows that you don’t want to take but sometimes it works in your favor,” Leak said.
With three touchdowns in a four-minute stretch of the last quarter, Arkansas erased nearly all of a 33-7 Florida lead. On a third-and-5 at midfield, Bua chased Leak toward the sideline and Leak dumped a weak pass right into Olajubutu’s hands.
The Gators ran out the clock after officials counted off 30 yards in penalties against the Razorbacks—15 for complaining about the call.
“It doesn’t matter. The yellow flag was there. You know I can’t say anything,” Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said after being asked about the call after the game.
Three weeks ago, Arkansas trailed Alabama by 21 in the third quarter. The Razorbacks tied the game in regulation and won in two overtimes.
“If you let your guard down, they’ll get you,” Florida coach Ron Zook said.
Leak, a true freshman, had led the Gators to a big lead by throwing short and letting his receivers and ball carriers run long in the Gators’ second straight road win over a ranked team.
However, after Keiwan Ratliff’s 44-yard interception return put Florida up 33-7 early in the fourth quarter, Arkansas scored 21 points in three quick drives. Quarterback Matt Jones was 8-of-11 for 132 yards and carried once for 26 yards in the late flurry.
“Give credit to Arkansas. They never gave up and kept fighting,” Gators safety Daryl Dixon said. “They showed that a game is 60 minutes long.”
Leak completed 20 of 34 passes—most of them short tosses to the wing that spread out the Arkansas defense. Ciatrick Fason turned a screen pass into a 33-yard score and also had a 75-yard TD run.
“We knew Arkansas was going to bring a lot of pressure so we tried to use the screen against them,” Leak said. “It is something we have always had but we decided to use it a little more this week.”
Florida (5-3, 3-2 SEC) and Arkansas (4-2, 1-2) are still alive to win their Southeastern Conference divisions.
The Gators won at No. 6 LSU 19-7 last week. Florida has won 42 of its 51 conference road games since the league expanded to 12 teams in 1992. Until Saturday, Arkansas had never scored more than seven points against the Gators in an SEC game.
The three touchdowns came when it appeared the Razorbacks were already out of it. Jones hit Richard Smith for 12 and 10 yards and Jason Peters for 8 before nearly getting a chance for more.
“The guys gave great effort and we stopped ourselves,” Nutt said. “It’s a disappointing loss. It’s very hard to swallow.”
Until Arkansas’ late rally, Leak had made a shamble of Arkansas, hitting passes on 5- and 7-yard patterns that receivers turned into a 269 yards of offense.
“We knew we were going to face a good team,” Nutt said. “The way they went into Baton Rouge and came out with a win (against LSU), you could tell their freshman quarterback was gaining confidence.”
The screen pass to Fason gave Florida a 10-7 lead—two plays after Leak hit Ben Troupe for 29 yards on a third-and-5. On Florida’s next drive, Leak hit Jemalle Cornelius for 21 yards on third-and-5 to set up Matt Leach’s field goal.
Fason ran 75 yards for a score on the first play of the second half, putting Florida up 19-7. DeShawn Wynn scored from the 17 later in the period to end a drive set up when Ratliff intercepted Jones’ pass at the Florida 25 and returned to the 38.
Ratliff’s 44-yard TD return appeared to seal the game for Florida at 33-7, but Arkansas moved 64 yards in five plays to begin narrowing the gap. Smith’s 12-yard catch made it 33-14, then two more drives of less than a minute cut Florida’s lead to five.
Arkansas’ Cedric Cobbs had 88 yards before leaving with a pulled hamstring, but the Razorbacks’ offense often followed a nice set of plays with a general malaise.
Jones and backup Ryan Sorahan were 9-of-9 passing for 86 yards to open the game, but the Razorbacks’ only early score came on a sharp-looking Cobbs-led drive that put Arkansas up 7-0. Cobbs carried between the tackles for 31 and 13 yards and scored from the 7 after hit George Wilson on the right side for 18.
Later in the first half, Jones hit Steven Harris for 31 yards on a third-and-7 to the Florida 35, but Chris Balseiro missed a 53-yard field goal.
Following the miss, Florida drove 64 yards in five plays for Fason’s screen pass TD.