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Post Georgia 37 – Arkansas 0: Saturday noon’s all right

Wednesday October 6, 2021

Any Georgia fan should recognize “physicality” and “composure” as two touchstones of Kirby Smart’s program. Since he took over as head coach, we’ve heard those terms over and over. Occasionally we’ll get games that remind us why those attributes are so important to Georgia’s success.

Arkansas got off to an impressive 4-0 start behind a physical style of play worthy of their head coach. Sam Pittman’s troops bullied Texas with 333 rushing yards and beat the Longhorns into the ground in the second half. The Arkansas defense was the aggressor in their upset of Texas A&M. They tallied three sacks, eight QB pressures, and nine tackles for loss out of Barry Odom’s disciplined and stingy scheme. The expectation was for Georgia’s toughest and most physical test yet in this young season.

Georgia passed the test. Its offensive and defensive lines dominated the game. The Arkansas ground game was held to 75 yards. The explosive downfield passing game with which Arkansas had done so much damage this year was stymied: KJ Jefferson entered the game second nationally in yards per attempt. Georgia limited him to a meager 5.4 yards per pass attempt. Other teams hadn’t been able to exploit Arkansas’s 3-2-6 defensive scheme on the ground, but Georgia was able to run the ball consistently. It’s true that a scheme so light on numbers up front might invite teams to run the ball, but the Razorbacks had been effective stuffing the run and getting pressure out of their base look. Georgia’s offensive line played one of its better games of the season, and blocking across the board was improved. Stetson Bennett kept the ball on the game’s first play, and Ladd McConkey made a key block on the outside to ensure a respectable gain.

Kirby Smart also understood how composure would affect this game. He knew the noon kickoff could be a disadvantage and began campaigning for an engaged crowd as soon as the Vanderbilt game ended. Georgia fans heeded the constant calls to be early and vocal, and that made a difference in the game. Arkansas, in their first true road game, weren’t composed and yielded two false start penalties and a sack on their first possession. Georgia, aided by the crowd, was able to jump on the Razorbacks and led 21-0 before Arkansas managed a first down. Whatever game plans were in place went out the window from that point. Arkansas had to play catch-up, and Georgia was content to keep it on the ground and maintain possession while incrementally adding another 16 points over the final three quarters.

Smart’s exhortation to Georgia fans was aided by the presence of ESPN’s Gameday and top broadcast crew. The network did everything it could to create a big-game environment for a noon kickoff. The final hour of Gameday took place inside the west endzone pavilion, and the early-arriving crowd provided a fantastic backdrop for the show. ESPN wisely incorporated parts of the Georgia pregame into the final minutes of Gameday, the Redcoat Band sounded terrific as mics picked up their sound, and Gameday flowed right into the broadcast as the Georgia team took the field. For all of the downsides of a noon kickoff, a national audience was led right into an extremely impressive quarter of football. It couldn’t have gone better for Georgia – a dominant performance and six straight hours of coverage during one of the busier football Saturdays of the season. ESPN had to be encouraged with the results. As they take over the CBS contract in a few years, you wonder if they’re going to continue to explore the possibilities of Gameday, the SEC, and the noon ESPN time slot.

  • The highlight of the day seems to be Jalen Carter’s roadgrading of three Arkansas defenders on Kendall Milton’s touchdown run. We’ve seen that formation before with Carter and Jordan Davis added to provide extra bulk in the jumbo package. Last season Carter caught a touchdown pass against Tennessee out of that same fullback position. The formation hasn’t always been as successful as we think it ought to be – just a week ago Georgia was stuffed on a fourth down run at Vanderbilt. Even against Arkansas the highlight play was in trouble. Carter had to block three defenders because Owen Condon managed to block no one at all leaving a lot of cleanup work to do. Carter got more than his share, and Van Pran-Granger got in the way of outstanding Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool just long enough to allow Milton to score.
  • The other highlight was Dan Jackson’s punt block and Zamir White’s recovery. It was a single spontaneous moment like Bacarri Rambo’s interception return against Auburn in 2011 where the Sanford Stadium crowd lost its mind. I love the plays where you can see it unfolding with nothing to be done about it. Jackson, rather than turning upfield to set up the punt return, sprinted into the hole in the Arkansas blocking scheme and was untouched. The only question was whether the ball would go out of the back of the endzone, but it rolled sideways and White quickly scooped it up.
  • Other than the punt block, it was another mixed performance for special teams. Camarda’s returnable kickoffs weren’t part of the plan at Vanderbilt and might not have been intended against Arkansas, but again the opponent paid dearly. The poor field position after Georgia’s first two kickoffs primed the Georgia defense and led to the punt block and short field position on Georgia’s second touchdown. Georgia had difficulties lining up correctly on its own punts, and another penalty on a punt return took away favorable field position.
  • Podlesney is settling into the season after a shaky start. The game afforded him three field goal attempts, some from distance, and he knocked all of them through.
  • It feels repetitive gushing over the same defenders week after week, but in most other seasons these plays would make the video board. Jordan Davis tracked down an SEC tailback. Devonte Wyatt earned Player of the Week honors. Dean was a menace in the backfield. Georgia’s front seven kept Jefferson bottled up.
  • The front seven is so consistently good, but the performance of the secondary can’t be overlooked. Ringo and Kendrick have locked down the cornerback spots. Arkansas had been a big-play offense thanks to long downfield completions, but the longest Arkansas receptions were 22, 19, and 18 yards. Treylon Burks had 9 catches, 294 yards, and 2 touchdowns in the previous two Arkansas games. Georgia defenders held him to 10 yards on three receptions despite Burks lining up all over the field in an attempt to get him the ball. Several Georgia sacks and pressures were aided by great coverage downfield – no one was open. As this area gains experience and adds in talented depth like Tykee Smith, one of Georgia’s biggest preseason concerns fades away. We’ll continue to see teams try the downfield shots with which South Carolina had some occasional success, but that success has been much tougher to come by in the last two games.
  • The most successful Arkansas play needed several uncharacteristic missed tackles by Georgia defenders. That play was followed by a long option keeper by Jefferson fortunately called back on an unnecessary Arkansas penalty. The Dawgs didn’t have many more lapses after that sequence, but it’s likely those plays will be used this week by the coaches as reminders to maintain focus.
  • Georgia’s approach to the rest of the game became clear when the offense took possession at the end of the first half with over two minutes remaining and a full complement of timeouts. The Bulldogs ran the ball six straight times, were in no rush, and drained the clock. Georgia added 13 points on three scoring drives in the second half, but they were long and deliberate drives. Georgia wasn’t going to push tempo or take shots downfield – why would they?
  • Georgia didn’t limit the offense because of Stetson Bennett – we’ve seen him play enough to know better. But a forced pass to Bowers in the second quarter might have been a signal to the coaches to shut it down. The play looked like the one that resulted in Bowers’s second touchdown at Vanderbilt, but it was well-covered by Arkansas. The throw was also behind Bowers and probably should have been intercepted.
  • Bennett started the game on fire though. His first completion to McConkey was thrown to the perfect spot in the umbrella coverage Arkansas favored. A later out-route to McConkey set up a touchdown. The jewel though was the wheel route to McIntosh that led to Georgia’s second score. The 27-yard reception was over a third of Georgia’s passing yardage for the game.
  • The tailbacks split the load, and a 24-yard gain in the second quarter helped make Cook the leading rusher. I was impressed with White’s physicality – he was tough to bring down on the first drive, delivered a big hit on his fourth down conversion, and seemed to relish contact. His determination to get into the endzone for a late touchdown was a highlight of the second half.

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