Florida hopes to bounce back against Razorbacks

Published 2:40 pm Friday, October 3, 2008

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ The last time Florida played Arkansas, the Razorbacks had a Heisman Trophy candidate and the Gators went on to win the national championship.

Florida won’t have to deal with Darren McFadden this time, but the Gators’ road to the BCS title game looks even more daunting now than when they beat the Razorbacks for the 2006 SEC championship.

After a stunning loss to Mississippi last weekend, No. 12 Florida will try to bounce back when it takes on struggling Arkansas at Fayetteville on Saturday. Even if the Gators win, though, they have games coming up against No. 3 LSU and No. 11 Georgia — not to mention Kentucky and No. 19 Vanderbilt, who are both unbeaten.

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“There’s a sense of urgency, a sense that everybody’s very intense and determined, not just to win but to take a little aggression out and go out and hit somebody,” Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said. “I think we’ll have a very physical game on Saturday.”

The Gators won the national championship two seasons ago with one loss — and their fans no doubt remember the dramatic way their team reached the title game. While Florida was playing Arkansas for the Southeastern Conference championship, UCLA shocked Southern California, opening the door for the Gators.

They went on to beat the Razorbacks 38-28 and, after receiving the chance to play for the national title, routed Ohio State.

That ’06 SEC title game was a wild one, with second-half lead changes, big plays on special teams and more than a little trickery. Arkansas (2-2, 0-1) would be happy to play another close game like that after losing to Alabama and Texas the last two weekends by a combined 77 points.

New coach Bobby Petrino is trying to make Arkansas competitive in a rebuilding year. He has a senior quarterback in Casey Dick, but the Razorbacks are struggling to protect the passer.

“We have to play better defense. We have to play better offense,” Petrino said. “I’m not sure that we are executing well enough on offense right now to ever be in a shootout, so we just have to play better defense and … score points when we get down to the 20-yard line.”

McFadden, the star running back who took Arkansas to such heights, is now in the NFL. He finished second in the Heisman voting to Tebow last year, after also finishing second in 2006.

That adds a bit of intrigue to this matchup. McFadden nearly became the first Razorback to win the Heisman. The school promoted him extensively, trying to convince voters to choose him over Tebow. Now the Florida star comes to town.

Both Tebow and the Razorbacks have better things to worry about than last year’s Heisman race, though. The Gators (3-1, 1-1) were somewhat underwhelming on offense before their loss to Ole Miss. In that game, Florida trailed 31-30 and wasn’t able to take advantage of a late chance to win it.

Tebow apologized to fans in an emotional speech afterward, and coach Urban Meyer has defended his quarterback’s play. Last season Tebow threw for 32 touchdowns and ran for 23; this season he’s thrown only six TDs and run for two.

“I think Tim’s playing fine,” Meyer said. “He’s not hitting the figures or the statistics that he did a year ago, but I would assess his play as pretty good.”

Gators receiver Percy Harvin caught 13 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown last weekend. He also rushed for 82 yards, but was plagued by fumble problems.

The Razorbacks’ defense has given up its share of big plays lately, especially in a 49-14 loss to Alabama two weekends ago. Now, they face a Florida team that’s angry — and maybe a little desperate.

“There’s no margin,” Harvin said. “We’re going to play a little harder. We know we lost, but we know we’re right where we need to be.”