If you’re going to lose focus defensively, draw a bunch of flags and go conservative in your offensive playcalling in the second half of an SEC game, and you still want to win, you better have had a heck of a first half.
Fortunately for Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs, that certainly was the case Saturday at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium as the Dawgs came out fast, led by 32 at the half, and then held on for an important 45-32 road win over a hard-fighting, never-say-die bunch of Razorbacks.
The game opened with a textbook 13-play, 75-yard drive by the Hogs, with only one pass thrown as they notched the first score. But the Dogs blocked the PAT attempt and from that point on in the first half it was all Georgia, as Nick Chubb proved for the second consecutive week that playing without Todd Gurley isn’t Mission Impossible for this team.
Chubb had a scintillating 43-yard run for a touchdown, the highlight of a career-high 202 yards on 30 carries with 2 touchdowns. He racked up 127 of those yards on a dozen carries just in the first half.
Hutson Mason had another effective day at quarterback, finishing 10-for-17 for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns. On Georgia’s very first play of the game Mason put to rest the notion that he can’t or won’t throw long downfield, as he hit Chris Conley for 48 yards to set up the Dogs’ first score. (Conley wound up as Georgia’s leading receiver, with 5 catches for 128 yards and one touchdown.) Mason and Conley later connected in the second half on a beautifully thrown 36-yard touchdown strike, and Mason could have had another TD pass had he not overthrown a wide-open Reggie Davis in the first quarter.
After that opening drive by the Razorbacks, Jeremy Pruitt’s defense played masterfully in the first half, including a remarkable series that stymied the Hogs after Georgia had set them up with great field position at the UGA 45 on a surprise but unsuccessful onside kick. The Dogs’ D reeled off two consecutive sacks (by Damian Swann, who had a terrific day, and Leonard Floyd), leaving Arkansas facing third-and-33 and then fourth-and-22. All the Hogs could do was punt.
With corner blitzes coming frequently, Georgia stymied the Arkansas offense for most of the first half, and the Dogs had another great game in the turnover department, converting two fumble recoveries and two interceptions into 21 points (including a play on which freshman defensive back Dominick Sanders scooped up a fumble caused by Jordan Jenkins and ran it back 54 yards for a TD). Georgia is an eye-opening plus-13 in turnover margin for the season.
The first half was another superb performance, following on last week’s domination of Missouri. Georgia’s 38 points was the most by the Bulldogs in the first half of an SEC game since 1984.
But the second half was a different story.
Georgia’s defense came out after intermission with an obvious lack of focus and the Hogs adjusted to the Dogs’ blitzes. The result was Arkansas scoring 26 more points, aided by a flurry of yellow flags thrown on UGA players, with a couple of interference calls (one of which was questionable) and a defensive holding on cornerback Devin Bowman, and Floyd called for a late hit and a facemask infraction.
Richt had said before the game that his goal was for the Dogs to force Arkansas into passing. Unfortunately, he got his wish. Georgia kept the vaunted Razorback running game in check, but Hogs QB Brandon Allen picked the Georgia pass defense apart in the second half, having particular success throwing to his tight ends over the middle. The Razorbacks came into the game known for their league-leading rushing attack, but wound up getting only 126 yards running compared with 296 through the air. Arkansas outgained Georgia 422 yards to 386 on the day.
It didn’t help, either, that Mike Bobo, who called a brilliant first half, got a bit conservative with his playcalling in the second half, typified by a third-and-4 in the fourth quarter where Georgia handed the ball again to Chubb, who could manage only 2 yards, rather than risk a pass.
But, in the end, Georgia’s offense ate up the final 5:05 on the clock and was on the Hogs’ 12-yard line when Mason took a knee to end the game.
Overall, as Richt said after the game, “We just didn’t play as well [in the second half] as we did in the first half.” The Dogs need to learn that “we’ve got to keep our edge,” he said.
But, the head coach concluded, Georgia did what it had to do and came away with another SEC road win and still leading the SEC East.
Considering what the Dogs have gone through over the past week and a half, that’s an achievement worth barking about.
Feel free to share your own views of another big Bulldogs victory.
Got something you want to discuss concerning the football season or UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find me on Facebook.
Follow me on Twitter.
— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg