All things considered, I felt about as good about last Saturday’s game as any sports fan can feel about a loss, and I’ve received some constructive criticisms about my dour attitude, so we’re going to mix it up a little bit, maybe even to the point of injecting a little optimism. Yeah, you read that correctly.
You know what else we’re going to do (and by "we," I really mean "I")? We’re going to postpone this week’s picks and get down to business regarding Saturday’s game right here and right now, and I’m not fooling around with a middling amount of data or a fair degree of detail. Strap yourselves in, because I’m going to bring you . . . Too Much Information!
The Georgia Bulldogs and the Arkansas Razorbacks have met on the football field twelve times, all of them during my lifetime. (I was not quite two months old when the two teams squared off for the first time in the 1969 Sugar Bowl.) The ‘Dawgs and the Hogs have played in seven different cities, including four bowl pairings and one SEC Championship Game matchup. The Bulldogs are 0-1 against the Razorbacks in Texas, 1-1 against them in Louisiana, 1-0 against them in Tennessee, 4-0 against them in Arkansas, and 3-1 against them in Georgia. Mark Richt is 5-0 against the Hogs.
Two games into the 2010 season, the Bulldogs have drawn nine flags, tied with Alabama for the third-fewest in the league. Georgia averages 27.5 penalty yards per game, tied with Mississippi State for the fewest in the conference. That’s right; the Red and Black are the least-penalized team in the SEC this year. I guess the players hadn’t heard how Mark Richt’s laxity had made them undisciplined or how Todd Grantham hadn’t made a huge difference in the way the team played, huh? (By the way, Arkansas ranks eleventh in the league both in penalties incurred and in penalty yards incurred; the Hogs average 55 penalty yards per game, matching the total yards the ‘Dawgs have lost on flags this autumn.)
Last year, Arkansas ranked 58th in the nation in scoring defense, 73rd in rushing defense, 89th in total defense, and 99th in passing defense. How bad were the Hogs on D? Arkansas State ranked ahead of Arkansas in all four major defensive categories. How much have the Razorbacks improved in 2010? They gave up 187 yards to a Division I-AA Tennessee Tech outfit that was held to 55 yards by Willie Martinez’s worst defense, and they gave up 188 yards to Louisiana-Monroe, or exactly 60 yards more than Coach Grantham’s defense conceded to the Warhawks’ Sun Belt sister school, Louisiana-Lafayette.
We all know about Washaun Ealey’s goal-line fumble against South Carolina, but did you know that turnover ended the only one of Georgia’s eight red zone trips this season not to result in points for the Red and Black? The Bulldogs’ other seven trips inside the opposition’s 20 yard line produced five touchdowns and two field goals.
Mark Richt-coached teams have acquitted themselves well against the opposite division, as 24 of his 52 SEC wins have come against the West and only seven of his 24 league losses have been at the hands of foes from the other side of the divide. Coach Richt is 10-4 against the SEC West in Sanford Stadium, with half of those home losses coming against annual inter-division rival Auburn.
With 120 minutes of playing time under their belts, the Classic City Canines have offset their two giveaways (one fumble and one interception) with four takeaways for a +2 turnover margin that is the fourth-best in the SEC. Yep, that lack of discipline is really getting out of hand in Athens, isn’t it? (By the way, the Razorbacks, who have lost three fumbles and tossed a trio of interceptions, are a league-worst -4 in turnover margin.)
Should the prospect of a shootout scare the Bulldog faithful? Not if history is any indication, it shouldn’t. Georgia won a shootout with Arkansas in Fayetteville last year, and the ‘Dawgs have scored 30 or more points on the Razorbacks in four of the last six series showdowns. If this one goes down to the wire, the Red and Black may take solace in the knowledge that Georgia is 3-0 all-time against the Hogs in contests decided by seven or fewer points.
Some of us were worried about Georgia’s defense up the middle during the offseason, and all of us are worried about it now, but Arkansas may be just what the doctor ordered for a Bulldog defense whose strength may be its secondary. Although the Razorbacks rank third in the conference in first downs with 47 (just two behind league leader Alabama’s 49), Bobby Petrino’s attack is decidedly heavy on the forward pass. The Hogs have moved the chains an SEC-best 30 times through the air, but the 16 first downs they have amassed on running plays are tied for the fourth-fewest in the conference.
In the Mark Richt era, the Bulldogs are 33-7 in road games, with the last of those losses coming in Columbia last Saturday. On the previous six occasions on which Georgia lost on an opponent’s home field under Coach Richt, the Red and Black bounced back, going 6-0 in the outings immediately following those away game setbacks.
That 6-0 ledger includes a 3-0 mark between the hedges and a 4-0 record in the four seasons following Georgia’s last SEC championship in 2005. I reckon those signs of decline aren’t quite as sure and steady as some of Coach Richt’s detractors would like to believe.
Look at the reasons for the Bulldogs’ struggles last weekend: difficulty defending a run-oriented offense centered around a strong tailback, timidity about unleashing a promising yet untested redshirt freshman quarterback, and the special challenge of playing a conference contest on the road. None of those problems will confront the Bulldogs next weekend.
Regardless of whether the NCAA hears the appeal of A.J. Green’s four-game suspension tomorrow, Caleb King should be back on Saturday, which will make the outing against Arkansas the first contest of the season in which both Ealey and King are available to play. Moreover, Coach Richt’s postgame remarks made it clear that the coaching staff plans to take the training wheels off of Aaron Murray and let him run the offense.
Yes, the Bulldogs were held to a paltry six points by South Carolina on Saturday. You know what? The Gamecocks held Georgia to nine points in 2001, and, in their next game, the ‘Dawgs scored 34 points on Arkansas. In fact, in the 14 seasons from 1996 to 2009, the Red and Black scored more points against their next SEC opponent than they had against the Palmetto State Poultry eleven times.
The Razorbacks were the Bulldogs’ next conference opponent after the Gamecocks in three of those 14 seasons. In that trio of campaigns, Georgia went 3-0 against Arkansas and averaged more than 41 points per game against the Hogs.
My Prediction: Georgia 41, Arkansas 31.