Both Razorbacks and Bulldogs have been studying Georgia’s film
By David Hale
ATHENS, Ga. — Against a high-octane offense in the opener, Mark Richt might have assumed he would have to coach his team through a shootout. The result was a low-scoring defensive affair.
A week later, Georgia faced off against South Carolina, a series in which points are always at a premium. Instead, the two teams combined for their highest scoring affair in nearly 40 years.
So what might be in store for Georgia this week?
“All I can say is fasten your seat belt and get ready for another 60-minute war,” Richt said. “I would see no reason why this thing might not go down to the wire also.”
One big reason for the concern is the rest Arkansas has enjoyed leading up to the game.
While Georgia was pushed to the limit in the first two weeks of the season, including a road game at then ninth-ranked Oklahoma State and an SEC showdown against South Carolina, the Razorbacks have been game-planning for this week.
Arkansas had an easy road against Missouri State in a blowout win to start the season before having last week off, which essentially gave coach Bobby Petrino all the time he needed to come up with a plan for the Bulldogs.
“I think the biggest advantage is the time to plan and focus on your opponent and even observe us,” Richt said. “Sitting there and watching that TV copy is different than just watching the film that shows up.”
On the other hand, while Arkansas has studied Georgia’s film, the Bulldogs have had a chance to examine themselves and work out some of the kinks.
After a dreadful opening-week performance, Georgia looked much improved in a 41-37 win over the Gamecocks last week. The offense clicked, with receiver A.J. Green finding ways to get open and quarterback Joe Cox finding him six times, including once for a touchdown.
The special teams, which struggled against the Cowboys, were dominant in the return game, too, including Brandon Boykin’s 100-yard kick return for a score.
But there are still concerns, led by three more turnovers — bringing the Bulldogs season total to six — and some inconsistency on defense.
The point, however, is that Georgia knows both its strengths and weaknesses, Richt said, and now it’s a matter of following a well-worn plan to success.
“It’s like that old song,” Richt said. “You have to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative and don’t mess with Mr. In-between. That’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to really look at the positive things and build off of them, eliminate the negative things, and we’ll be OK.”
Offensively, Georgia is still working on finding its identity.
The Bulldogs mustered just 177 yards after their opening touchdown drive. Against South Carolina, however, Cox upped his completion percentage, and coordinator Mike Bobo diversified the game plan to spread the ball around.
The results were dramatic, with Green confounding South Carolina even in double coverage, some strong running from tailback Richard Samuel and a 61-yard touchdown run on a reverse by Branden Smith.
“I thought we played with more passion and more energy, but I still think we’re still honing in on what we are offensively,” Bobo said. “But if we’ll play hard and eliminate the mistakes, we’ll have a chance to move the ball and score points in games.”
Defensively, Georgia held strong against the big play, but South Carolina was able to pick apart the Bulldogs underneath with quarterback Stephen Garcia running for 42 yards and tight end Weslye Saunders catching eight passes.
The test will get tougher this week, with Arkansas’ All-SEC tight end D.J. Williams and a high-octane offense led by strong-armed quarterback Ryan Mallett.
While Georgia wanted to eliminate the vertical game last week, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said that game plan may not be as effective against the Razorbacks.
“The passing game is like a running game — it’s very controlled, and he uses it like you would if you’re running the football,” Martinez said. “They’re conservative passing. They can take it deep when they want, but it’s well executed.”
The season has been full of surprises so far, Richt said, but the upside is that each game brings more experience and less of the unexpected.
So while Arkansas has had plenty of time to prepare for Georgia, Richt think his team has the advantage of being battle-tested.
“We are getting everybody’s best lick,” he said, “but we are going to be ready.”