Arkansas keeps bowl hopes alive with 'damn awesome' OT win at Florida

Arkansas receiver Tyrone Broden (17) is mobbed by teammates after catching the game-winning touchdown in overtime of the Razorbacks' 39-36 victory at Florida on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla.

A quick start and a strong finish carried Arkansas’ football team to its first win in nearly two months Saturday. 

Quarterback KJ Jefferson threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Tyrone Broden in overtime and the Razorbacks defeated Florida 39-36 in front of an announced crowd of 89,782 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

Broden’s touchdown on first-and-goal capped a 35-yard drive that answered a 39-yard field goal by Florida kicker Trey Smack on the Gators’ overtime possession. 

A holding penalty by Arkansas right guard Joshua Braun, a Florida transfer, moved the Razorbacks back 10 yards one play after Smack’s field goal. Jefferson ran 20 yards to convert first-and-20, then Florida-born running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders ran 11 yards to the 4.

Jefferson threw a slant to Broden over the middle on the next play and Broden caught the ball falling down. He was on the field because of an injury in the second half to Andrew Armstrong, who had 103 receiving yards. 

"Broden made a heck of a catch," an overjoyed Arkansas coach Sam Pittman told Razorback Sports Network. "Heck of a throw to win. We hadn't won in so long that it was just damn awesome, to be honest with you." 

The Razorbacks (3-6, 1-5 SEC) snapped a six-game losing streak, won for the first time in six tries on the Gators’ home field and kept their bowl hopes alive. They must defeat Auburn, Florida International and Missouri in succession at Reynolds Razorback Stadium to gain bowl eligibility.

Arkansas' long losing streak included five losses by one possession, including road losses at LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss by a combined 13 points.  

“In our league, every week is a challenge," Florida coach Billy Napier said. "It's going to be no different next week than it was this week. You’ve got to go earn the right to win. 

"Arkansas went toe to toe with about everybody they played this year. The same thing could be said for today."

The Gators lost their second in a row following a 43-20 loss to Georgia last week when the Razorbacks did not play.

Playing its first game since Kenny Guiton replaced Dan Enos as the team's offensive coordinator, Arkansas put together its best offensive performance of the season with 481 yards. The 39 points were the most since the Razorbacks scored 56 in their season opener against Western Carolina. 

"I think the kids played their butt off," Pittman told ESPN. "Kenny Guiton called a great game, the defense played well, but we just kept fighting. It’s the first time in school history we’ve beaten the University of Florida in Florida, a big deal. 

"That wasn’t a 2-6 team. We were 0-0 and we’re trying to make a run. I’m so proud of our football team.” 

Sanders rushed for 103 yards in his first game since Oct. 7. The Rockledge, Fla., native has missed five games with a knee injury that he rehabbed away from the team in Dallas. 

It was the first time an Arkansas player has eclipsed 100 yards rushing this season. 

Jefferson added 92 rushing yards and the Razorbacks ran for a season-high 226 as a team.

"We needed to run the football there," Pittman told ESPN. "That’s the one thing we didn’t do earlier in the game; we hadn’t been running the football well inside the red zone. Boy, we did there and KJ made a great, great run on first-and-long."

Jefferson threw for 255 yards on 20-for-31 passing with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.

Broden’s touchdown ended a wild game that saw both teams take the lead in the final five minutes of regulation. 

Jefferson’s 25-yard touchdown run with 4:26 remaining put the Razorbacks ahead 30-26. It was Arkansas' first rushing touchdown since Sept. 16 and first in an SEC game.

Florida running back Trevor Etienne responded with a 41-yard catch and a 26-yard touchdown run to give the Gators a 33-30 lead with 3:02 to play. 

Cam Little kicked a 49-yard field goal for Arkansas to tie the game with 44 seconds remaining. A holding penalty against left tackle Devon Manuel and a false start by Sanders threatened to knock the Razorbacks out of Little's range, but Jefferson threw 10 yards to Broden on third-and-23 to set up a more manageable try. 

Florida (5-4, 3-3) marched down the field quickly to set up a game-winning attempt, but Smack's 44-yard try off the left hash mark was wide right with three seconds remaining.  

Arkansas won the overtime coin toss and chose to defend. Florida failed to gain a first down when defensive back Jayden Johnson knocked away a third-down pass intended for tight end Arlis Boardingham.

"I told the kids afterward that our lessons in football are about life," Pittman told RSN. "You either quit or you fight. I've got a whole group of fighters." 

Arkansas put together an impressive 7-play, 75-yard opening drive that culminated in an 8-yard touchdown pass from Jefferson to running back AJ Green. 

Jefferson was 4-of-4 passing for 63 yards, and rushed for an 8-yard gain on the drive. 

The Razorbacks went ahead 14-0 moments later when freshman defensive back Jaylon Braxton stripped Florida receiver Ricky Pearsall on a reception near the sideline and returned the ball 33 yards for a touchdown. 

It was Arkansas’ fourth defensive touchdown of the season, which tied three other teams for the most since the Razorbacks joined the SEC. 

Florida answered the Arkansas onslaught with a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Graham Mertz to receiver Eugene Wilson late in the first quarter. The 19- and 6-yard scores each took advantage of good field position for the Gators, who started the scoring drives at the Arkansas 33 and 42 following long punt returns totaling 56 yards by Pearsall. 

Mertz completed 26 of 42 passes for 282 yards and 3 touchdowns. 

The teams traded field goals in the second quarter — 37 yards by Little and 47 yards by Smack — and the game was tied 17-17 at halftime. 

Little added a 41-yard field goal on the Razorbacks’ first second-half drive to take a 20-17 lead. He missed a 50-yard attempt later in the third quarter. 

Florida took its first lead, 23-20, on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Mertz to Pearsall one play after Jaydon Hill recovered a fumble by Arkansas’ Green late in the third quarter. The extra point snap was bobbled and Smack was unable to attempt a kick. 

Little tied the game 23-23 with a 22-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Smack’s 34-yard kick with 7:58 remaining gave the Gators a 26-23 lead. 

Jefferson showed out on a 10-play, 84-yard drive that gave the Razorbacks the lead late in regulation. He had 55 rushing yards on the drive and completed a pair of passes totaling 16 yards to Isaiah Sategna. 

Florida responded well to each Arkansas score in the fourth quarter. Etienne's long touchdown run capped a 3-play, 77-yard drive, and the Gators marched 54 yards to the Arkansas 21 in 36 seconds after Little's game-tying field goal. 

A penalty for illegal substitution pushed Florida back five yards for Smack's attempt at the end of regulation. The Gators, who were out of timeouts, avoided a 10-second runoff that would have ended regulation because the penalty flag was thrown while the clock was stopped following a first down and before the referee had signaled ready for play.

"There’s no question that there was some confusion there and we were fortunate," Napier said. "We're fortunate that we got away with that.”

The Gators lost for the first time at home since October 2022.

"That's a good football team," Pittman said. "They beat the heck out of Tennessee here in this place. For us to come in here, nobody else [from Arkansas] was able to do it and this team was. I'm really proud, especially where we were."

Pittman fired Enos as offensive coordinator Oct. 22, one day following a 7-3 home loss to Mississippi State when the Razorbacks totaled 200 yards on offense. He replaced him on an interim basis with Guiton, the team's 32-year-old receivers coach who had no previous coordinating experience. 

Pittman called Guiton "magnificent."  

"He was solid as a rock," Pittman said. "His preparation was solid as a rock. More importantly, the kids and myself believe in him." 

"Things aren't easy when you have to make changes and do different things," Pittman added. "You need everybody to respond — the team to respond, the staff to respond, the fans to respond, and they did. It turned out to be just a really big win for us." 

The Razorbacks lost by an average of 23 points in their previous five games at The Swamp, including 63-35 in their most recent trip in Pittman's first season as the team's coach in 2020. Pittman missed that game due to illness and former defensive coordinator Barry Odom served as the team's interim head coach. 

Arkansas snapped a four-game losing streak on the road and won a regular-season game away from the state since back-to-back wins at BYU and Auburn last October. 

The Razorbacks are scheduled to host Auburn at 3 p.m. next Saturday in Fayetteville.