FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Losing is one thing for Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
Losing in the fashion the Razorbacks did two weeks ago to No. 11 Auburn — allowing 543 yards rushing in a 56-3 loss — is another completely.
With a bye week to put that humiliation behind it, Arkansas (6-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) bounced back with a dominating 31-10 win over No. 10 Florida on Saturday.
And it was the defense that was trampled by the Tigers that led the way, holding the Gators (6-3, 4-2, No. 11 CFP) to a season-low 12 yards rushing on 14 carries.
“To come out of that game and realize we couldn’t stop the run, I just said, `I don’t care what we do, we’re going to stop the run on defense,”‘ Bielema said. “I don’t care if we played with 11 guys or had to play with 12. I’ll take the penalty; we ain’t going to have someone run the ball on us.”
While Arkansas’ defense had its way with a reeling Florida offense, Rawleigh Williams did his best to lead the Razorbacks on offense — rushing for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26 carries. It was the fifth time this season Williams has topped the 100-yard mark.
The win is the first over the Gators for Arkansas since the 1982 Bluebonnet Bowl, and it’s the Razorbacks first SEC victory over Florida. Arkansas had lost nine straight conference games to the Gators since joining the league in 1992, but it outgained Florida 466-241 in total yardage on Saturday in the comfortable win.
“That’s our identity,” Williams said. “If we can’t run the ball, our team doesn’t click the way it should … Everything else will open up because of that, and it did today.”
The Gators only touchdown came on an interception return for a touchdown by Duke Dawson in the first half. Luke Del Rio finished 19-of-37 passing for 229 yards and also threw two interceptions for Florida, which has now failed to reach 250 yards of total offense in three of its last four games.
“First and foremost for the guys who made the trip down here, I apologize you had to sit through that,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “… I feel horrible for Gator Nation and the way everything kind of played out.”
The Razorbacks finished with 223 yards rushing overall, a marked improvement after totaling 25 yards on 31 carries in the loss to Auburn two weeks ago. Freshman Devwah Whaley added 66 yards on the ground on 14 carries, and quarterback Austin Allen finished 15-of-26 passing for 243 yards and a touchdown.
Senior wide receiver Drew Morgan led Arkansas seven catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, while safety Santos Ramirez opened the scoring with a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown — the fourth time the Razorbacks have scored on an interception this season.
“After that Auburn game, we were down,” Arkansas defensive end Jeremiah Ledbetter said. “But we knew we could bounce back and we had a good team.”
If there was any doubt left about the dominance of the SEC West vs. the East this season, this should put an end to that once and for all. The West was 8-1 against the East entering Saturday, and every team in the West now has a victory this season over an East opponent.
Arkansas fell out of the rankings following its humiliating 56-3 loss to Auburn two weeks ago, the worst defeat in Bielema’s four seasons. Saturday’s win might not be enough to usher in a return for the Razorbacks, but voters are likely to now pay more attention to who Arkansas has lost to this season — No. 1 Alabama, No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 11 Auburn.
Florida, meanwhile, continues to rate as the best of the SEC East — which should be enough to keep the Gators in the rankings for at least another week.
Florida returns home for the first time since Oct. 15 when it hosts South Carolina next week.
Arkansas closes out its home schedule next week by hosting No. 13 LSU, which it has defeated in each of the last two seasons.
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