FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Given all No. 10 Florida faced Saturday — a chance to pad its lead in the SEC East, a tough road environment, an opponent coming off a bye — coach Jim McElwain expected the trip to Arkansas to define his team.
What he learned wasn't pretty or unexpected, when his Gators were finally undone by an anemic offense in a 31-10 loss that dented their championship dreams.
"The East is a long way away," McElwain said.
It's a lot longer after the Gators (6-2, 4-2 SEC) suffered their first loss in nine meetings to the Razorbacks (6-3, 2-3) since Arkansas joined the conference in 1992. The margin of error is gone; UF must win its final two SEC games — at home against South Carolina next week and at LSU the next — or get help from Kentucky and Tennessee to defend its division title.
Whatever lingering College Football Playoff hopes the Gators had are almost certainly dashed. Not that they ever seemed strong to begin with, considering a lost offense that couldn't find itself at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
For the second week in a row, quarterback Luke Del Rio watched his first pass get returned for a touchdown. This one came after he forced a throw into double coverage for Tyrie Cleveland, who had it knocked out for safety Santos Ramirez to take 24 yards into the end zone.
"It's on me," Del Rio said.
So was his second interception, a fluttering bomb to Antonio Callaway that safety Josh Liddell intercepted at the Arkansas 3.
But there's plenty of blame to go around.
An offense with its full set of running backs finished with 12 rushing yards on 14 carries against a Razorbacks defense that allowed 56 points and 543 rushing yards in its last game, a blowout loss at Auburn on Oct. 22.
"Weren't able to run the football, which is rough," McElwain said.
Especially considering Florida couldn't pass it, either.
Del Rio finished 19-of-37 with no touchdowns and the two interceptions. His 229 yards were aided by a garbage-time drive that almost didn't happen. McElwain said he considered benching Del Rio for Austin Appleby or freshmen Kyle Trask or Feleipe Franks but wanted Del Rio to finish it out.
Over the past three games, UF has scored more touchdowns on throws by the opposing quarterback (three) than its own (two), thanks to defensive back Duke Dawson's pick-six Saturday.
A Gators offense that was sixth in the country on third downs finished 1-of-11. UF ran run only 51 plays, its lowest total since December's SEC title game and its fifth-worst since 2008.
That left a banged-up Gators defense that carried the team through the first seven games gassed and gashed. "Once you're on the field that much, it does wear you down," safety Marcus Maye said.
After holding Georgia to 164 yards last week, Florida allowed 118 in the first two drives and 267 in the first two quarters. A beleaguered Arkansas offensive line opened holes on the ground (223 yards) and gave quarterback Austin Allen enough time to find wide-open tight ends across the field.
The physical damage done to UF's defense became apparent on one fourth-quarter pass, when Allen dumped a screen pass off to running back Devwah Whaley. After taking it 20 yards, Whaley plowed through UF's physical defense for another 6. That was one of 16 plays of at least 10 yards the Gators allowed, after entering Saturday allowing the fewest in the country.
Given the stakes, and given the performance, the disappointment and frustration were obvious. But Del Rio said they might be overblown.
"It's not like we're 2-7 here," he said. "We're a good team. We didn't play well today, but we're a good team."
They have two SEC games left to try to prove it.
INJURY UPDATES: Linebacker Jarrad Davis will probably be out for next week's game after apparently tweaking his already injured left ankle, McElwain said. Linebacker Alex Anzalone left with an apparent wrist injury and will probably be out. So will Cleveland, who was carted off with a leg injury, center Cam Dillard, who was on crutches, and receiver Chris Thompson, who was flattened on a kickoff return.