Gators host Arkansas pushing to lock up bowl bid

GAINESVILLE — Florida’s push for bowl eligibility and a winning start to a daunting November stretch begins with the easiest remaining game on the schedule.

The Gators have owned Arkansas in football, especially in the Swamp. UF is 10-2 in the series, including 5-0 against the Razorbacks in Gainesville, winning by an average of 23 points following a 63-35 rout behind Kyle Trask’s 6 TD passes in 2020.

Times have changed under second-year coach Billy Napier, who’s rebuild continues to feature dramatic peaks and valleys. The latest low point was last Saturday’s 43-20 loss to top-ranked Georgia.

But Napier’s squad has been much more dependable in the friendly confines of Steve Spurrier-Florida Field, where the Gators (5-3, 3-2 SEC) have won six straight and are 4-0 in 2023.

“Home-field advantage is a real thing, especially in our league,” Napier said. “You’re making the opponent execute in a little bit different environment. Our people can impact the game. They’ve impacted games this year.

“It’s a special place to play.”

Even against the struggling Hogs (2-6, 0-5), the Gators can ride a sold-out Swamp’s energy as they seek any advantage.

Quick slant: Florida’s last home loss was 45-35 to LSU on Oct. 15, 2022. The Gators, meanwhile, are 2-8 under Napier away from home. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman has lost 11 of his last 15 games.

Coaches: Pittman, 21-23 in 4th season; Napier, 11-10 in 2nd season (51-22 overall)

About Arkansas: A knee injury to All-SEC tailback Raheim “Rocket” Sanders during a season-opening win against Western Carolina set the tone for a difficult season in Fayetteville. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Sanders accounted for a league-leading 1,714 yards from scrimmage in 2022. Five of the 2023 Razorbacks’ six defeats have been by one possession, including three in a row with All-SEC cornerback Dwight McGlothern out with a concussion. Defending, though, has not been the issue with Arkansas, which ranks fifth in the SEC in total defense (333 ypg), has 12 takeaways and 22 sacks. Rangy 6-foot-4, 240-pound linebacker Jaheim Thomas is third in the conference with 74 tackles, including 6.5 for loss. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks’ attack lags near the bottom of every SEC category, ranking last in total offense (305.9 ypg), 13th in passing offense (196.9) and last in rushing offense (109). The Hogs have just 27 plays of 20 yards or longer, fewest in the league. Quarterback KJ Jefferson, a second-team preseason All-SEC pick, has suffered through a disappointing season, averaging just 7.1 yards per attempt and throwing 7 interceptions (tied for most in conference). Arkansas has allowed 31 sacks, too.

About Florida: The Gators face an ideal foe as they look to rebound from an ugly loss for the third time. Napier’s team answered one-sided losses at Utah and Kentucky with key SEC wins against Tennessee and South Carolina. Florida’s offense set the tone each time behind quarterback Graham Mertz. He has thrown multiple touchdown passes in four straight games and leads the SEC with a 75.9% completion rate. Top receiver Ricky Pearsall set career highs with 50 catches for 718 yards after he finished with 6 receptions for 99 yards against Georgia, highlighted by three plays longer than 20 yards. Yet, tailback Trevor Etienne failed to crack 50 rushing yards for the fourth consecutive game since running for a career-high 172 yards against Tennessee. Florida’s defense has yielded 275 passing yards three games in a row and has generated just 3 turnovers all season. Veteran edge rusher Princely Umanmielen had his most productive game, finishing with 9 tackles, 6 solos and 1.5 for loss, along with 2 quarterback hurries. Given Arkansas’ offensive struggles, he and the Gators’ D could be in for a long-awaited big day.

3 things to watch

Eugene Wilson III. The Gators’ freshman playmaker got out of the gates quickly against Georgia, catching passes of 27 and 25 yards on the opening drive while showcasing speed and instincts no one of the Florida roster can match. The Bulldogs adjusted to slow him down. He ended with 11 catches but for just 75 yards against the SEC’s top defense. Against Arkansas, Wilson could have a field day.

Pass rush. The Gators enter with a league-low 11 sacks, but Arkansas has allowed the second-most in the SEC behind Alabama. Florida has had its own struggles protecting Mertz, who has been sacked 23 times, including at least three during each of the past five games. Hogs 6-foot-7, 281-pound end Landon Jackson, a LSU transfer, has 5.5 sacks among his 10.5 tackles for loss that rank third in the conference.

UF conversions. Napier’s attack converts just 33.7% on third down (31 of 92) and 7 of 17 on fourth down (41.2%). Despite its defensive struggles, Arkansas allows just 35.9% (37 of 103) on third down and 42.9% on fourth (3 of 7). Florida would like to sustain and finish drives to avoid a close game with a squad due for a win after myriad close calls.

Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

When: Noon

TV: ESPN2; Radio: ESPN FM 98.1/AM 850 WRUF, Sirius/XM 134 or 191

Weather: 71 degrees, 3% rain chance

Favorite: Florida 6.5 points

Online:; @osgators on X.

Edgar Thompson can be reached at