As a part of SEC Championship Game week, we're taking a look at Alabama's and Florida's common opponents in alphabetical order. First up: Arkansas.
|3rd Down Def.||2-14||2-13|
This particular comparison is a good example of how a few big plays here and there can dramatically swing the outcomes of games.
Alabama rolled in its contest with the Razorbacks. They had just come off of blasting FIU and North Texas, and nothing was standing in their way all game. The Tide punted on their first three possessions, but back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter got things going. Arkansas would answer with a touchdown coming out of half time, but Bama scored 21 answered points to finish out the game. Greg McElroy was stellar in passing for 291 yards and 3 TDs, while Mark Ingram had a modest 50 yards on 17 carries for the day.
Florida meanwhile faced the Hogs in a bit of a trap game scenario as it came the week after Florida's big road win over LSU. Brandon Spikes went out with a groin injury in the first quarter. Tim Tebow was only a game removed from his concussion. Turnovers and defensive lapses ruled the day for the Gators as the Razorbacks kept pressuring the home team all game. UF also benefitted from some notoriously bad calls in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, Florida won it on a field goal with nine seconds to go.
Now, if you take a look at the stat sheet, you'll find that there isn't a huge gap between how Florida and Alabama performed. The passing totals were about 26 yards apart. Rushing totals were even. The third down offenses were within about 10 percentage points of each other, and third down defense was nearly identical. Rushing defense is about the clearest consistent difference as Arkansas averaged 1.5 yards more per carry, and Dennis Johnson had a huge day going for over 100 yards at a 7.6 yards per carry clip.
The real difference separating the contests was in all the aberrations in Florida's game. UF's defense gave up a 75-yard touchdown pass, by far the longest on the season; subtract that out and Florida's passing defense on a down-to-down basis suddenly looks a lot better. The four Gator turnovers were also huge, as three came in Arkansas territory (including two in the red zone) and the fourth led to a 30 yard touchdown drive for the Hogs.
Florida was clearly suffering some kind of post-LSU hangover, as the Gators played sloppily and without their normal high energy effort. I attended both that game and the ones against Georgia and FSU; the energy level in this one versus the other two I've been at is beyond compare. It was their worst effort of the season, it showed, and they came very close to losing.
Alabama had basically three weeks to get ready for its SEC opener, and the result against their porcine opponent was predictably beautiful for the Tide. McElroy had a career night, Trent Richardson went for 7.9 yards per carry, and Bama put the game away in the third quarter.
Better performance: Alabama, by a landslide.