Are Razorbacks ready for physical gut check in the Swamp?

Photo by Walt Beazley,

Ken Hatfield is not the type of guy to mince words. The former Razorbacks head coach and All-Southwest Conference defensive back and punt returner tells you what he thinks.

In an interview with Hatfield nine years ago concerning Arkansas’ undefeated national championship season of 1964, Hatfield, like other members of the squad, pointed to the Hogs’ less-than-successful 1963 season as the catalyst for what became the greatest period of Arkansas football history when the Razorbacks won 22 consecutive games from Nov. 23, 1965 until Jan. 1 of 1966.

By all accounts, the 1963 Razorbacks underachieved, finishing 5-5 overall and 3-4 in the SWC play after winning or finishing second in the league the four previous years.

Hatfield said he would never forget the criticism assistant coach Doug Dickey, who would go on to be the head coach at Tennessee and Florida and athletics director at Tennessee before he retired in 2002, leveled at the team after a late-season loss.

“He told us we played just good enough to look good losing,” Hatfield said. “That’s stuck with me all these years.”

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema did not use those exact words when looking back at his Razorbacks’ losses to Rutgers and Texas A&M, but his sentiment was generally the same when he said earlier this week that Arkansas is a 3-2 team that could be 5-0 except for a couple of plays in each game.

In other words, the Razorbacks failed in too many critical situations against the Scarlet Knights and Aggies to be victorious.

Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 SEC) at No. 18 Florida (3-1, 2-0 SEC)

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.

The task in front of Bielema and the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-1 SEC) as they travel to the Swamp to face the No. 18 Florida Gators (3-1, 2-0 SEC) is to buck that trend. It won’t be easy to do against Will Muschamp’s Gators, who own one of the SEC’s best defenses, and one of the league’s most efficient offenses. Both units play the game with a physicality that stands out, even in a big boy league like the SEC.

The Hogs will have their manhood challenged in the Swamp, and it will be interesting to see just how they respond. Will they stand up to the blows and give themselves a chance to win, or will they wilt under the relentless pounding the Gators seek to inflict?

The Gators have been a disciplined squad this season, with the exception of their loss at Miami. The Hurricanes forced Florida into five turnovers to pull out a tenuous 21-16 victory. Arkansas can’t count on the Gators to be as generous, but any turnover would help the Hogs’ effort.

Florida isn’t as explosive offensively as it was in its best years under Urban Myer and Steve Spurrier, but the Gators generally capitalize on red-zone opportunities.

Much will rest on the tender shoulder of Brandon Allen, who is proving to be a playmaker even as a sophomore, but he has to learn some patience and to look off defensive backs. It goes without saying, he must avoid the interceptions, which set the Hogs back against A&M, but just as importantly, he must have great recognition of the Gator’s difference at the line of scrimmage to keep the Hogs out of a bad play.

The Hogs have to stay ahead of the chains and avoid lost-yardage plays, on which the Gators feed.

Defensively, the challenge is much different than against the Aggies. The Gators are not as explosive as A&M, even though quarterback Tyler Murphy is more than just mobile with his feet. Florida is stingy with the football. The Gators work the play clock like no other team in the SEC. The Razorbacks will get relatively few chances to score, maybe just two a quarter, making every point they give up that much more difficult to make up.

Last week the Razorbacks proved they had enough in them to look good losing to a very strong offensive football team in Texas A&M. It will be interesting to see how close they come to winning in what adds up to be a physical if not ugly football game against the Gators.