The title "Getting It Done" ought to be the theme for either Georgia or Arkansas leading into Saturday’s game. The cool, workman-like SEC philosophy is a must without the luxury of playing Wyoming or New Mexico for a coasting conference win. Over the last week Mark Richt’s words resonate anything but Georgia football while Bobby Petrino’s comments are simple, “We’ve got to execute.”
From southeastern part of the SEC all the way to the most northwestern corner of SEC territory, the best in college football heard Mark Richt loud and clear. “Arkansas v. Georgia is a big game.” Credit Richt for his understanding of the state of SEC Football. In 2003 and 2005 the Georgia Bulldogs feasted on 6-2 records. Each year they earned a chance to play LSU for the SEC Championship with both games ending in identical 34-13 results. LSU won in 2003, and Georgia won in 2005. After 2005, Georgia registered six conference wins two more times in 2007 and 2008 respectively without a trip to the SEC Championship game. Tennessee won the head-to-head tiebreaker for the honor in 2007 while 2008 reflected more of the recent trends.
Of the East and West Division winners over the last six years, nine have logged seven or eight SEC victories. While three 6-2 achievers lead their divisions, 7 others over the same time period were bridesmaids. Although 6-2 can be good enough to win a division and even an improbable BCS Championship (LSU in 2007), a second SEC loss in as many games leaves a long season ahead for Georgia with South Carolina holding the tiebreaker ticket over the Bulldogs at the end. A loss narrows Georgia’s path to the razor’s edge of elimination from SEC East contention.
Setting aside Richt’s suddenly keen sense of an obvious “big game”, has there ever been a time when Richt actively encouraged crowd support to this extent? Hearing that familiar ring, Arkansas fans dusted off yellowing FOI responses searching for any record of Richt attending the Right Reverend’s “Rah-Rah Will Mask Desperation” Revival Caravan. Alas, no record could be found. Investigators suspect that Richt either attended Les Miles’ knock-off course or that a Georgia assistant sent away for the materials which included a complementary hand fan. Sweating is common in the SEC, but the bad kind is never from the heat. It’s from the humility. Hog Fans want the pleasure of seeing the Razorbacks beat a full strength Georgia team, not one which needs a twelfth man or is absent A.J. Green. At least Alabama comes to Fayetteville next week.
Georgia’s loss to South Carolina revealed a Bulldog offense with a fair number of receivers and a very limited number of ball carriers. QB Aaron Murray spread the ball around to seven receivers including a fifty-five yard reception to Kris Durham and a thirty-one yard play to TE Marlon Brown. Officially Murray was 14-21 pass attempts for 192 yards. Not recorded in those numbers are three others which resulted in sacks. Other than two rushes for 6 yards by QB Aaron Murray, only one tailback other than Washan Ealey carried the ball for the Bulldogs. Carlton Thomas’ sole carry netted one yard in the second quarter. Ealey touched the ball on twenty of Georgia’s forty-seven plays from scrimmage (excluding all kicks or punts from the total number of plays). Nineteen were rushes totaling seventy-five yards, and one was a reception for minus two yards. Look for RB Caleb King to return from an ankle injury this week.
As appropriate as player involvement in the yardage production sounds, Georgia achieved only two sustained drives against South Carolina. They were practically identical. The first was the Bulldogs’ first drive of the first half, and the second was the first drive of the second half. Georgia had five first down opportunities in each where the team gained 4 yards or more on two first-down plays. Nine first downs were rushes and only one was a pass. However, the big keys to these two drives were producing an average of 8-9 yards on third down in each. Both resulted in field goals to account for Georgia’s 6 points for the game.
A searchable, sortable chart of Georgia's plays v. South Carolina may be found on hog database. [Until html script is enabled, here is the URL. http://www.hogdb.com/2000/01/02/georgia-play-chart-v-south-carolina/ ]
By contrast, the Bulldogs had seven unsuccessful drives in the game amassing five three-and-outs, one four-play drive and one five-play drive. In those seven drives, Richt’s offense had ten first-down plays with six of them gaining 4 yards or more. However, Georgia’s six third-down opportunities in those drives netted a negative fifteen yards, and the sole play for positive yardage was a one-yard carry by Ealey.
The difference in Georgia’s drive success and failure against South Carolina could be seen as passing production on third down; however, the real determining factor in Georgia’s success on third down plays rested on QB Aaron Murray’s shoulders. Whether successful or not he was responsible for the yardage in 10 of the 11 opportunities with Ealey being relied upon on one occasion. The logical reasoning is for this is that Georgia found itself in third-and-long situations throughout the day which happened to be the case. In five of the eleven third down situations Georgia faced, the Bulldogs had to cover nine yards or more.
Those who want to turn back the clock to last year and recall how well Georgia’s unheralded quarterback Joe Cox performed against Arkansas’s defense should reconsider. Hog defenders were embarrassed and have heard about the 2009 Georgia game for a year now. Statistics against Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe are of little help in determining how the Razorback defense has progressed. In terms of attitude Arkansas’ defense needed to do nothing more in preseason than to cause collisions with such violence that Bobby Petrino stopped contact drills. Petrino rarely changes his routine for anything. The players became SEC size and speed in the off season and through the first two games tackling technique seems to be improved overall. If there was ever a time for Arkansas’ defense to begin to turn heads, it would be against Georgia.
Arkansas’ offense was nothing short of perplexing against Louisiana Monroe. Thirty-one points were not terrible and neither were Ryan Mallett’s four-hundred yards passing at more than nine yards per catch nor were Arkansas’ almost five-hundred yards of offense. But the reality is that Arkansas’ offense struggled through the three quarters which were marked by a sack-fumble, offensive penalties, the offensive line blocking high, pressure on Mallett, throws behind receivers and an interception. Through three quarters the Hogs’ offense produced three-hundred twenty-seven yards and only fourteen points. Arkansas put up one hundred and eighty yards and seventeen points in the fourth quarter. Overall it was like the Razorbacks were tired of practice.
Undoubtedly, Arkansas’s passing attack will test Georgia. South Carolina ground out an old-Arkansas style fifty-two rushing attempts against the Bulldogs at a little more than three yards per carry while the Gamecocks attempted only 17 passes. After the game, South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore seemed mildly surprised at getting the ball handed off to him thirty-seven times in his first SEC game, and add a pass reception to his touches. Garcia completed passes at a seventy percent rate, yet Spurrier ran his freshman tailback at a rate his player cannot sustain for the SEC season. Even then, Georgia’s top five tacklers against South Carolina were safeties and linebackers.
For the purposes of comparing Arkansas and Georgia, the Bulldogs’ performance at South Carolina was either a game where Georgia built a platform on which to improve or alternatively gave a strong indication of a rebuilding year after going 8-5 last year. The latter is probably not what Georgia fans want to hear and may explain why Mark Richt’s words make him sound like a coach about to take the hot seat. However, teams which appear as Georgia has early in the year have a tendency to get better and sometimes a home crowd will do the trick.
The Razorbacks have about as many unknowns given the level of competition played thus far, at least in the public eye. But Bobby Petrino has a clear idea of what his offense is capable of, or he would not have continued to call thirty-one rushing attempts at three yards per carry when eight defenders roamed the box for Louisiana Monroe. Nothing about that is Petrino’s style of football. If Arkansas summons its experience in Death Valley last year, playing on the road will make no difference to this team.
While Georgia might turn in an inspired performance at home and win or keep this game close, Arkansas’ defense has every incentive to resume the violent hits which stopped contact drills in preseason against a Georgia offense which failed to produce against South Carolina. Arkansas’ offense produces more yards and points than most offenses ever will, even when it struggles. If the Mallett and the Razorbacks put together a good day with the way the Hog defense is expected to play, Arkansas will win by twenty points.
SharpTusk is a Featured writer on Hog Database
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