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Florida pass rush plays role in huge win over Arkansas

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter scoops up an Arkansas fumble before returning it 35 yards for a touchdown Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Much of the credit for Florida’s 63-35 win over Arkansas went to the Gators' offense, and understandably so — UF has scored 275 points this season, the third-highest total through six games in school history behind the 1994 and 1996 seasons, and quarterback Kyle Trask has as good of a case as anyone in college football when it comes to the Heisman Trophy conversation. 

But the Gators wouldn’t have been nearly as successful Saturday if it weren’t for the team’s pass rush. 

Florida’s defense sacked Razorbacks quarterback Feleipe Franks four times in his return to The Swamp, recorded eight tackles-for-loss and added three quarterback hurries.

The performance on paper actually appeared worse than it was, thanks to several blown assignments resulting in huge chunks of yardage by the Razorbacks. 

First came Franks’ 47-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Mike Woods, which pulled Arkansas even with the Gators midway through the first quarter. Then in the next quarter, Florida’s defense allowed running back Trelon Smith to sprint 83 yards to the end zone for six points. Franks would later connect with Woods again for a big play, this time on an 82-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter to theoretically keep Arkansas in the game. Three big plays accounted for 212 yards of offense for the Razorbacks, but Arkansas would register 246 yards across the other 48 plays. 

“I think (the pass rush) was huge because if you look at the numbers with Feleipe being 15-of-19, I mean he was on tonight. But one of the things we want to do is kind of get after him. Not only were we able to knock him off rhythm, but we were able to keep them behind the chains tonight with our pass rush,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “I think we're gonna go back and look at this film and watch defensively, even though there are certain numbers that aren't going to look great on film, there can be a lot of really good defensive plays for us to build off, and then some critical errors that we got to get fixed and explosive plays that we can't give up.”

Despite recording just one takeaway, UF made sure not to let it go to waste. Mohamoud Diabate delivered a crushing blow to running back Rakeem Boyd, causing a fumble in the backfield that bounced right into the hands of defensive lineman Zachary Carter. 

The Tampa native scooped the ball up without hesitation and took off for the end zone, sprinting 35 yards for the touchdown with several teammates running with behind him. It marked UF’s first defensive touchdown since Jonathan Greenard scored on an 80-yard fumble return last season against Vanderbilt. 

For Carter, it had been a moment much longer in the making.

“Probably little league, I did the same thing in little league,” Carter, asked to recall his last touchdown, said after the game. “I was like 8. It’s a good feeling. I always wanted to do that in The Swamp, and I finally got to do it.” 

He also concurred with Mullen’s assessment that UF certainly has to shore up aspects of the defense heading into the four games while also adding the unit should have held Arkansas to fewer points. While the mistakes may not matter when the Gators score nine touchdowns, Florida’s defense is striving for perfection rather than settling for being adequate. 

“We were happy we got the win, but obviously we know there’s some things we have to clean up. Our guys, especially on defense, we take a lot of pride. I feel like we gave up too many points,” Carter said. “They shouldn’t be able to score that many points, so we gotta go back as a defense and fix some things.”

Florida linebacker Amari Burney (30) chases Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks during Saturday's game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.