Ordinarily, you wouldn’t expect a game between the first-place team in the SEC East and the last place team in the SEC West to be considered that close a call, especially when the latter school has a 15-game conference losing streak.
But the phrase that’s popped up most frequently this week to describe Georgia’s game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks is “strength vs. strength,” and that’s a big reason why 10th-ranked UGA is only a 3.5 point favorite over the Hogs.
Arkansas leads the SEC and is the 10th best team in the nation in running the ball, averaging 278.7 yards per game thanks to having a pair of formidable backs in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins running behind an absolutely humongous offensive line.
In meeting Georgia, the Arkansas rushing attack will be matched up against a defense that is the conference’s No. 2 (and the nation’s 12th best) against the run and, despite a very shaky start to their season, ranks 11th nationally in total defense, 13th in scoring defense.
After going up against an uptempo spread team in Mizzou last week with considerable success, this week’s opponent is a power-running team. It looks to be what Bulldogs defensive end Sterling Bailey called “traditional football, smashmouth.”
Of course, Georgia proved last week it can be pretty good running the ball even without Todd Gurley, who’ll be absent another week. The Dogs are just behind Arkansas nationally in rushing yards per game, ranking 11th with 275.7 to the Hogs’ 278.7.
Mark Richt said this week that Georgia’s defense will be scheming to put the Razorbacks in long-yardage situations, forcing them to go to the air. With Brandon Allen at QB, that’s not where the Hogs are most proficient, though they did toss it 40 times last week in a squeaker loss to Alabama, which basically bottled up their running game. The Dogs will have to watch those play-action passes.
Arkansas’ defense, no doubt, is thinking along the same lines, aiming to shut down Nick Chubb and Brendan Douglas and force Georgia QB Hutson Mason to win with his much-debated arm. And right about here is a good place to mention that, after easing his way back into the receiving rotation over the past couple of weeks, the Dogs’ star receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, reportedly is just about back to full-speed and ready to make some big catches. If Mason is able to get the ball to him, that works against Arkansas, which has one of the SEC’s less-efficient pass defenses.
The X-factor in this game is likely to be motivation. Last week, just two days after learning that the main cog of their offense, Heisman Trophy Candidate Gurley, was suspended indefinitely pending an investigation of NCAA rules violations (which continues), the Dawgs came into the Missouri game with a chip on their shoulder and a determination to prove they weren’t a one-man team, as so many had dubbed them.
Will that fire and determination still be present in Little Rock against an Arkansas team that is just aching for a conference win and feels it’s been on the verge of a major upset all season? As Richt put it this week, the Hogs are hungry and “desperate to win one.”
What actually may end up deciding the contest is conditioning and mental toughness. All season long, Georgia has saved some of its best football for the fourth quarter. Conversely, the Razorbacks have tended to wilt late in the game, losing fourth-quarter leads and games to Texas A&M and Bama.
Georgia fans holding up four fingers at the beginning of the last quarter of this one will be hoping that trend continues.
Now, let’s get to some Junkyard Mail. …
Matt in Denver writes: Hi Bill, Like many, I find the Gurley issue unbelievably frustrating. Gurley was selfish any way you cut it. He let down his team by getting into that vehicle. Poor judgment just does not really describe his error. That said, I am flat tired of hearing the media and fans continue to talk about what players are not getting. Let’s talk about what they do get. Tuition, room and board, meals, access to tutors, trainers, medical staff, the pr department and the university brand. Many of these players have access to an education that, without athletics, they would not get. They have the opportunity to graduate with a degree that’s going to last long after their football career. They get to learn how to become successful contributors to our society. That’s why people go to college. They are not there to ‘get paid’. It’s the power of the university and the knowledge of the coaches that allows these players to play on national tv and get that unbelievable exposure. If an 18-year-old high school football player wants ‘to get paid”, try arena football or another avenue. If it’s all about the player, that should work right? Of course not. They want the exposure and access that UGA and other major programs offer. If Gurley is suspended for the rest of the season, I would like the university to dismiss him. Take away access to the coaches, trainers, UGA pro days, the facilities and the team. No more UGA support. It’s a tough lesson but I would like it to resonate throughout college football. I want everyone to remember that no single person is bigger than the team or the university. It’s an opportunity and a privilege. Our boys proved that on Saturday afternoon.
Wow, you really take that what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? ethic to heart, don’t you? Cut Gurley off completely, despite what he’s done for the school, if it’s determined he violated a rule that many disagree with? You’re right, of course, that the players knew what they were signing on for in playing college football. But, really, you think it’s fair for the NCAA and universities and TV networks to make millions off these players’ talent and hard work while the players get nothing? You’re not really going to pretend the UGA Bookstore is selling all those No. 3 Georgia jerseys for just any player wearing that number, are you? It’s a situation that has rankled players for some time, leading to the nascent union movement, and I think it’s one that inevitably is going to change. One way or another, college football is going to have to figure out a manageable way to share the wealth with the young athletes who generate all that revenue.
Right after last week’s big win over Missouri, I heard from BD from Birmingham, who writes: Bill, I hope people realize how awesome this win is given the events of the past week. I would call this a signature win, even a statement win. I wish I could put [memorabilia dealer] Bryan Allen in a padded locked room and play this game on repeat over and over again. Great day to be a Bulldog!
BD, I have to agree that the Dogs’ win over Missouri in the face of such adversity (and after all the experts had declared them dead in the water) was definitely a statement game and one of the most imposing performances we’ve seen out of a Richt team.
David T. Crisp writes: Bill, does anyone know when [Keith] Marshall is returning?
Not yet. Richt said this week that Marshall, coming back from injuries to his knee and ankle, is “doubtful for this game at best.” And the AJC’s UGA beat reporter, Chip Towers, indicated this week he thinks it may be a while longer, saying, “I was able to watch him a good bit at practice yesterday and he ain’t close, in my opinion.” Also on the subject of a missing tailback, several readers asked what the status is of redshirt freshman A.J. Turman. The word on him is that he’s still recovering from a foot injury that required surgery last summer and he’s unlikely to play at all this season.
On the subject of honoring longtime UGA coach and athletic director Vince Dooley and other Georgia greats, Ted Pennel writes: Hey Bill! Dooley Field sounds like a no brainer. But can I insert a hopefully worthy idea? Why don’t we line the Dawg Walk with various statues of famous coaches and players? And retrieve Vince’s statue and put in a proper place along the Dawg Walk. I think it would be a great way to honor our former greats (Trippi, Herschel, Dooley, Sanford, Sinkwich, and on and on). Also would enhance tradition of the walk and would be quite impressive to the recruits. Plus walking into stadium with a Dooley Field sign the last thing you see. Any thoughts?
Since the Dawg Walk is conducted in the Tate Center parking lot, I’m not sure that would be a very good place for such a walk of fame or that it would be very practical. However, Reed Plaza would be an excellent place to honor UGA heroes from the past, I think. I don’t think that’s a good venue for the Dawg Walk, however, so I don’t see combining the two ideas.
Jason Palmer writes: Do you know where one could find a playlist of the songs played over the [Sanford Stadium] PA system on game days? I have looked around but can’t find anything current.
I put that question to the UGA sports information folks, and they came back with this answer from Emily Deitz, assistant athletic director for promotions and licensing: “It honestly changes week to week and we have a DJ that mixes it all up, so there is not one set playlist each time.”
Nick Gannam writes: Hey Bill, I might be getting ahead of myself here, but organizing something like this needs to start as soon as possible if it seems like a popular idea. As you may know during the offseason Georgia and Florida were granted permission to both wear home jerseys during the clash in Jacksonville. … I started thinking about the possibilities. The WLOCP always takes place at the end of October. In 2015 the last Saturday of October falls on the 31st. What if Florida wore orange tops and Georgia finally brings back the black tops. Imagine Everbank Field split down the middle orange and black on Halloween. Imagine the lore the game could create for both schools if it became a classic. The rare circumstances involved create an exciting possibility. I’d love to gauge more peoples reaction to this idea and maybe get this grass roots movement started. Halloween Bowl 2015!
I don’t know how others will feel, Nick, but I’m sorry to tell you that, personally, I think that would make for one of the ugliest college football games ever!
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg