Because the ‘Dawgs and the Hogs share a limited gridiron history with one another, the authors of SB Nation’s Arkansas Razorbacks weblog, Arkansas Expats, asked if we would like to exchange interview questions in preparation for this weekend’s game in Athens. My answers have been posted at Arkansas Expats. Here are the responses from the other side:
Dawg Sports: The Razorbacks rank either first or second in the conference in scoring offense, total offense, and pass offense, while Ryan Mallett leads the league in total offense and passing yards per game. How good is the Arkansas O, and how do you expect it to take advantage of the Red and Black’s new defensive scheme on Saturday?
Arkansas Expats: This isn't exactly breaking news, but the Razorbacks' offense is really, really good. You guys were participants in one of the Hogs' most impressive offensive games of 2009 (and least impressive defensive efforts), so we probably don't need to belabor this too much, but add up Ryan Mallet + five excellent receivers + some solid runners + Bobby Petrino's game planning and it usually equals a lot of points. Although they can be a little inconsistent (good news for you: especially on the road), the hype is generally warranted here.
As for how the Hogs will attack, I'd love to say that they'll soften up the defense with a lot of hard running up the middle and then go bombs away with Mallet and crew. However, the running game has been disappointingly blah this year (and most of last year), and now that our best RB (Dennis Johnson) is out indefinitely with a gruesome-sounding bowel injury, we're not predicting Lattimore-style success on the ground. So, if we're going to get it done it'll have to be through the air. In that department, expect pretty much every kind of pass in the book (and then a few others not in there yet).
Dawg Sports: How much of the Hogs’ statistical improvement on defense is due to their having played a pair of pushovers to open the season, and how much of that upgrade indicates that the Arkansas D is better than it was a year ago?
Arkansas Expats: A little of both. This year's Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe teams won't go down in history as offensive powerhouses, but neither will the non-conference cupcakes we played last year and those teams didn't seem to have much trouble breaking 20 on us. So, simply comparing this year to last there seems to be a big improvement. And, the word from people in the know is that the defense is legitimately better - there's more speed and aggression, and the light seems to have come on in terms of several key players understanding what's going on and reacting quickly.
Having said that, there was *a lot* of ground to make up from last year, so it remains to be seen if this improvement is enough to keep SEC offenses at least somewhat in check. This weekend's game will certainly answer a lot of questions in that regard.
Dawg Sports: Speaking of patsies, the Razorbacks have played two of them, while the Bulldogs have one tough game under their belts, in the form of their road loss to South Carolina last weekend. Which will matter more this Saturday, Arkansas’s freshness and confidence after a pair of less than challenging outings, or Georgia’s battle-readiness after having faced a legitimate test?
Arkansas Expats: That's a tough one to answer. In fact, we would rate it a toss-up.
Arkansas' defense and special teams desperately needed to develop some confidence before the team delved into the heart of its schedule, and the Hogs' first two games have allowed those units that chance. Like we were saying above, it's also important to note that while Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe definitely deserve the patsy label, Arkansas' defense and special teams performed significantly better against them than they did last year against opponents of similar caliber. So, there are some pretty solid causes for optimism that those two units won't be quite the Achilles heels that they were in 2009.
In the end, we think the most important factor may be Georgia's desperation to avoid an 0-2 start in SEC play. We expect the Bulldogs to come out roaring and ready to play. Hopefully the Hogs can withstand those opening punches.
Dawg Sports: The Bulldogs and the Razorbacks have squared off just twelve times before, with four of those meetings coming in bowl games before Arkansas began SEC play, so the two teams are not as familiar with one another as with many of their conference coevals. Name two Arkansas players, one on offense and one on defense, whose names are not known to most Georgia fans now but with whom the Bulldog faithful will be familiar by sundown on Saturday.
Arkansas Expats: His classmates and fellow receivers Greg Childs and Jarius Wright had much bigger games against the Bulldogs last year than Joe Adams did, but Joe may very well be poised to have the biggest game of the three on Saturday. Adams missed games against Auburn, Florida and Ole Miss in the middle of last season after suffering a stroke (yes, you read that right) but he appears to be fully recovered. Despite sitting out those contests, he still put together an impressive enough season to make the AP's second-team All-SEC, and he was one of 11 conference players to have multiple 100-yard receiving games - he had two - in 2009.
Another offensive player you guys might be cursing come Saturday afternoon is sophomore running back Ronnie Wingo Jr. The Hogs employ a committee approach to the running back position, and no one has really staked much of a claim to becoming the primary back. But Wingo has had his moments, and he has displayed some nice versatility, hauling in a 35-yard touchdown reception against Louisiana-Monroe.
As for the defense, we nominate Anthony Leon. He recently moved from safety to linebacker, and the change appears to agree with him. In the Hogs' season opener, he had two sacks and four tackles for loss.
Dawg Sports: The Hogs have gone 0-7 in SEC road games since the middle of the 2008 season. What will it take for the Razorbacks to reverse this trend between the hedges, and will Arkansas get it done in Athens on Saturday?
Arkansas Expats: As with pretty much everything else Razorback-related, it all starts with Ryan Mallett. He's an emotional guy and has admitted that last year his biggest problem was getting *too* amped up for big games (particularly on the road), which led to him having some frustrating accuracy issues. He worked really hard in the offseason to develop a more even-keeled approach, and he says he'll be able to keep his excitement in check. This Saturday is the first real test of his new zenlike method...we'll see how it goes.
So, the first key is for Mallett and company to come out and execute efficiently. That includes the entire offense avoiding other nagging errors such as fumbles and dropped passes that plague them from time to time.
After that, the defense will need to hold its own and come up with a few key stops, and special teams will have to avoid losing the game for us (the Hogs' special teams are basically the opposite of the Bulldogs' in that regard).
As for whether or not it will happen, we go back and forth. We have an innate pessimism born of many heartbreaking losses in games like this over the years, so we'll always have a healthy amount of skepticism (it's a defense mechanism, really) until they actually do break through. But they certainly have the talent to do it.