Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Breaks go Gators' way
Florida defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy, right, celebrates his 42-yard touchdown interception against Arkansas with defensive back Cody Riggs (31) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.(AP Photo/John Raoux)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. Chalk it up to learning something new.
When a punt returner bobbles a fair catch attempt, he is allowed to have room to finish his catch. It doesn't matter if the ball bounces into the arms of the defender.
So the officials technically got a controversial call right in Saturday night's game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, a 30-10 Florida win over Arkansas. it doesn't make the rule any less in need of a review.
Loucheiz Purifoy got away with a goof-up shortly before halftime, attempting to field a punt inside his own 10-yard line with several defenders surrounding him. When Purifoy, who returned an interception for a touchdown earlier in the quarter, bobbled the ball, Jarrett Lake and the rest of the coverage team weren't recalling Section 4, Article 1, Paragraph VII of the NCAA rulebook.
“The rule is basically if a guy muffs the punt, which the receiver, the returner did, if he muffs it he is allowed to try and recover that uninterrupted, unimpeded before the ball hits the ground," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "When the ball went up in the air, I think it was Lake that was right there tried to grab it, and that was the foul.
“It’s just kind of one of those bam, bam plays, and a very good officiating crew caught it."
Lake's recovery at the Florida 9 was overturned and the Gators quickly exposed Arkansas' poor secondary with a long touchdown pass 20 seconds before halftime. What could have been an Arkansas lead or tied game going into the locker room was suddenly 17-7 in favor of the home team.
The Razorbacks never recovered.
Unlike 2009, when Marc Curles' officiating crew was suspended for a series of laughable calls here at the Swamp, the officials didn't cost Arkansas a win. They weren't perfect, like the missed holding call one play before a third quarter Zach Hocker field goal, but they were right on the night's most controversial play.
Bielema, a member of the college football rules committee, knew the rule and didn't see much need to argue.
“There’s a lot of thing in football that don’t, could be fair or whatnot, but it is the rule," Bielema said. "If it was us in that same position, I’d expect it to get called the right way."
It was one of several breaks that went Florida's way Saturday night. The Gators also forced two turnovers, including one returned for a touchdown.
More than that, the Razorbacks' inabilities to defend the pass and move the ball after the first quarter were their undoing. Those deficiencies weren't likely to hold a halftime lead had they had one. Playing a roster littered with first- and second-year players, Arkansas wasn't going to win in this environment scoring that few points.
Florida won the turnover battle and committed fewer penalties when the game was still in doubt. Those are game-winning ingredients and the Gators looked the part of the more experienced team.
Arkansas continued a trend of poor pass defense against the Gators. Cornerback Tevin Mitchel was targeted on both of Tyler Murphy's long touchdown passes to Solomon Patton, one of which came a few plays following the overturned punt recovery.
It was the latest chapter in a recurring saga for the Arkansas secondary, which has given up 847 passing yards and 8 touchdowns during a three-game losing streak.
"We felt like we got after him and we threw a lot of things at him, but you know he made plays with his feet," defensive end Trey Flowers said of the Florida quarterback Murphy. "It is something he is capable of doing. So he made those plays and we couldn’t get at him and get him down.”
The Razorbacks were bottled up following a first quarter in which they amassed 120 of their 255 yards of total offense. Arkansas was particularly good running the ball in the quarter with 81 yards against the nation's second-ranked rush defense, but had only 30 more the rest of the game.
"We knew we were going to have to be able to run the football and throw the football, and over the course of time, just too many issues – had too many dropped balls, we had a pick-six, we had a couple missed tackles that directly resulted in 14 easy points for them," Bielema said. "Playing a ranked opponent at home on their own turf you, you can’t do those things and expect to win."
No run game forced the Razorbacks to turn to the pass once they fell behind by double-digits. Brandon Allen, who was briefly knocked out of the game with a hand injury, didn't do enough to keep the Gators honest, completing just 17 of 41 passes for 164 yards. He threw an interception returned for a touchdown for the second consecutive game.
It was a tough first road start for the redshirt sophomore, who didn't play two weeks ago at Rutgers with a shoulder injury. In two road games this season, Arkansas has been held to 301 combined passing yards from its quarterbacks. Rutgers and Florida both held the Razorbacks under 300 yards of total offense.
It isn't likely to get any easier the next two weeks when Arkansas faces No. 13 South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama before a much-needed off week.
"A lot of things to clean up," Bielema said. "I can’t fault their effort or their desire, their attitude. All positives in that department, but too many things that we gotta get, we gotta get cleaned up. Nobody’s gonna give us a break obviously with the schedule coming up.”