GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For the second straight year, Florida survived a huge fourth-quarter Arkansas rally as the No. 16 Gators held on for a 45-30 victory over the Razorbacks Saturday.
In a game very similar to the 2003 contest at Fayetteville, which Florida won 33-28, the Razorbacks scored 23 straight second-half points to cut a 38-7 deficit to 38-30 in the final minutes.
Like last year’s game, there was an interception, but it was thrown by UA’s Matt Jones and there was no defensive penalty to nullify the pick.
After the turnover, Florida tacked on a touchdown in the final two minutes to survive UA’s rally.
“It was an awesome effort,” UA head coach Houston Nutt said. “I would have liked to see what would have happened if we had gotten 36 or 38. We waited a little too late and you can’t do that against a good team.”
Arkansas drops to 3-2 and 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference heading into an open week while Florida is 3-1 and 2-1.
Last year, Arkansas scored 21 fourth-quarter points to cut a 33-7 deficit to 33-28. An Arkansas interception by Sam Olajubutu with 1:32 remaining was nullified by a defensive personal foul penalty and the Gators were able to run out the clock to get the win.
After a disasterous second quarter, which left the Hogs in a 35-7 halftime hole, UA’s defense limited the Gators to a field goal in the third quarter and UA trailed 38-7 with 3:30 left in the period.
From that point, Arkansas scored on its next three possessions and was successful on two-point conversions following the last two touchdowns to pull within 38-30 with 6:47 to play.
“The positive thing is you come back and show unbelievable character and heart by staying in the game for 60 minutes,” Nutt said.
Following the third touchdown, the Razorbacks forced Florida to go three-and-out. Looking for another touchdown and two-point conversion to tie, UA moved from its 27 to the 40, but on second-and-12, Jones’ pass was thrown behind Carlos Ousley, who was coming open across the middle near first down territory. Ousley tipped the ball, and linebacker Channing Crowder made the interception and returned it 22 yards to the UA 26 with 4:24 left.
“It naturally hurts,” Nutt said. “The ball was just a little behind Carlos. I really wish he could have grabbed that one for a first down. It’s a tough way to play. They were sinking their zone, their nickel backs. It’s catch-up ball.”
“I threw it a little behind Carlos and (Crowder) was able to get a hand on it,” Jones said. “That’s one we wish we could have let go.”
The Gators used eight plays, taking 2:40 off the clock, and put the game away when Chris Leak hung in the pocket and found Dallas Baker open crossing the back of the end zone for a two-yard score with 1:46 to play.
On fourth-and-18 at the Arkansas 12 with 46 seconds to play, Jones was intercepted at the 32 by Reynaldo Hill.
“We came out and played like we had to play in the end,” Florida head coach Ron Zook said. “We played with energy and played in the moment.”
Jones threw for one touchdown and ran for another, extending his school record for touchdown responsibility to 66. He ran 10 times for 68 yards, including a 25-yard scoring run to bring Arkansas within 38-22. He completed 23-of-39 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown, a seven-yarder to Marcus Monk to make it 38-30.
With his 320 yards of total offense, Jones set the school career record with 7,100, topping Clint Stoerner’s mark of 7,049 from 1996-99.
Jones’ attempts and completions are career highs, but so are the three interceptions.
Despite the turnovers, he keyed Arkansas’ three second-half scoring drives. Arkansas had 193 yards of offense in the first half, but generated 194 on the three scoring marches. Jones was 11-of-15 for 144 yards and the touchdown to Monk on those drives, plus completions to DeCori Birmingham and Monk on the two-point conversion attempts.
After Florida drove 41 yards to the UA 19 and took a 38-7 lead on Matt Leach’s 37-yard field goal, Arkansas began its rally.
From the 20, Jones completed passes of 22 and nine yards to Steven Harris around a 24-yarder to Birmingham. A roughing the passer penalty moved the ball from the 24 to the 12, and Birmingham did the rest himself, scoring off right tackle.
“The first half, we didn’t play to our potential,” Birmingham said. “The second half, we came out and played with a lot of heart. I’ve said this since day one – this team has a lot of heart. We went out there and proved that today.”
A Florida punt gave the Hogs the ball at their 44 with 14:32 to play. On third-and-10, Jones hit Harris for 20 yards. A 14-yarder to Kyle Dickerson and a five-yarder to Birmingham put the ball at the 25 and Jones scored on a keeper around left end with 11:16 left.
Another Gator punt gave UA the ball at its 42 with 9:37 to go. A 22-yard completion to Cedric Washington and an 11-yarder to Chris Baker preceded the seven-yard scoring strike to Monk.
UA got the ball back with 5:46 remaining, but Crowder made his interception four plays later.
“He headed a great comeback,” Zook said of Jones. “He came out and did his job. On the same token, we let our defense down and it happens. You can’t do that.”
“We knew that he was going to come out in the second half and make plays because he is an amazing quarterback,” Crowder said. “We just had to keep playing because it is a 60-minute game and that’s the big thing.”
Leak’s second-quarter performance was as impressive as Jones’ end-of-the game effort. Leak passed for 174 yards and two scores during the quarter as Florida built a 7-0 lead into a 35-7 halftime cushion. Leak was eight-of-12 in the period with a 34-yard scoring toss to Baker and a 48-yard bomb to Jemalle Cornelius.
Ciatrick Fason put Florida up with a one-yard run with 1:36 left in the opening quarter.
Andre Caldwell got the Gators rolling in the second when he went virtually untouched on a 61-yard right-to-left reverse for a touchdown with 10:33 left in the half.
Arkansas answered with a 10-play, 89-yard drive, it’s longest scoring drive of the year, to get within 14-7 on De’Arrius Howard’s one-yard run. Jones completed passes of 20 and 26 yards to Harris on the drive and Howard’s five-yard run to the one set up the touchdown.
Florida answered quickly.
The Gators moved 80 yards in four plays and 1:27 to push the lead to 21-7. Leak followed a 30-yard completion to Caldwell with the 34-yarder to Baker down the middle of the field.
On UA’s ensuing possession, Jones was intercepted on first down by Jarvis Herring at the 30, setting the Gators up at the Arkansas 24 after a six-yard return. Fason scored five plays later, giving UF a 28-7 lead with 3:07 left in the half.
After a three-and-out by the Razorbacks, Florida got the ball at its 33 with 1:54 left. Six plays later, Leak hit Cornelius on the 48-yarder.
“What happened in the first half is exactly what we did not want to happen, for them to get out,” Nutt said. “We had a lot of young people blow up today.”
Leak was 14-of-20 for 237 yards in the first half as Florida outgained Arkansas 327-193.
Arkansas totaled 193 yards again in the second half, but held Florida to 113.
Leak finished 23-of-38 for 322 yards with three touchdowns on no interceptions. It marked the first 300-yard game of his career. Fason had 62 yards and two scores on 18 carries. Baker finished with 89 yards on six receptions.
Harris matched his career high for receptions with six for the Razorbacks for 114 yards, his second 100-yard contest. Monk recorded season bests of five catches and 42 yards.
Birmingham ran for 35 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, and Howard had 23 yards and a score on eight rushes.