FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas has at least one win over every team in the Southeastern Conference since joining the league in 1992.
That is, with the exception of Florida.
Whether in Fayetteville, Gainesville or even Atlanta for two SEC championship game losses, the Razorbacks (5-3, 1-3 SEC) have been unable to solve the mystery of the mighty Gators — from Steve Spurrier’s Fun `n’ Gun era to Urban Meyer and jump-passing Tim Tebow.
Arkansas has lost all nine of its SEC games with its SEC East counterpart, a streak that Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema is well aware of and hopes to end to when hosting the No. 10 Gators (6-1, 4-1) on Saturday.
“You don’t just ignore it,” Bielema said. “You don’t put it in the back of your head and act like it’s not there. To me, that’s a very fun thing to bring up. It’s their chance to do something that’s never been done.”
While history might serve as limited motivation this week for the Razorbacks, it’s likely they have plenty of other emotional fuel available following a 56-3 loss to No. 11 Auburn two weeks ago — Bielema’s worst loss in four seasons at Arkansas.
That loss came after eight straight games to open the season, and Bielema is counting on last week’s bye to help the Razorbacks recover physically and mentally following the beat down by the Tigers.
They’ll face a Florida team that’s won three straight games and enters Saturday with the country’s second-ranked defense — allowing an average of only 239.9 yards per game.
The Gators might not look as pretty at times as they did under Spurrier or Meyer, but fifth-year coach Jim McElwain has the wins coming, just the same.
“I think we’re playing to the strengths of our football team right now. … You’ve got to adjust as coaches to give your team whatever, whatever team that is that given year, the best opportunity to win,” McElwain said. “And that’s kind of what we’re doing.”
Some other things to watch when Arkansas tries to defeat Florida for the first time since 1982, when the two schools met in the Bluebonnet Bowl:
ALLEN’S HEALTH: Bielema said Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen has fully recovered from a right knee injury in the loss to Auburn and will play. The junior is tied for the SEC lead with 20 touchdown passes and is second in the conference in passing efficiency.
LOADED BACKFIELD: Mark Thompson and Jordan Cronkrite are expected to be available, giving Florida its full complement of running backs. Thompson was cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession last week and suspended against Georgia. Cronkrite was not with the team last week for unspecified reasons. Both returned to practice Monday. Jordan Scarlett, who has scored in six straight games, and freshman Lamical Perine got the bulk of the carries against the Bulldogs. It’s unclear if all four will play, but the return of Thompson and Cronkrite should at least provide depth.
LINE CHANGES: Bielema has mentioned possible personnel changes over the last two weeks on an offensive line that’s allowed 20 sacks this season, but Arkansas’ weekly depth chart listed the same five starters as the loss to the Tigers. The sacks are the most the Razorbacks have allowed in a season under Bielema, topping the 14 allowed in each of the last two seasons.
CLEVELAND’S ROLE: Arkansas will get its first look at Florida freshman receiver Tyrie Cleveland, a Houston native who snubbed the Razorbacks on signing day and landed in Gainesville. Cleveland has been mostly quiet this season, catching seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. But it’s clear the Gators are trying to get him more involved in hopes of taking some of the focus off talented sophomore Antonio Callaway.
RUSHING WOES: As goes the running game, so go the Razorbacks. At least, that’s been the case this season — with Arkansas averaging 213 yards on the ground in its five wins and 73 yards in its three losses. The Razorbacks gained only 25 yards on 31 carries in the loss to Auburn, something Bielema knows must improve against the Gators.
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