With the Razorbacks coming to Athens for a Saturday game that looms large for both programs, I thought I’d check in with a Hogs fan, my friend Doug, for a pig’s eye view of what we can expect.
Are Arkansas fans super confident that Ryan Mallett can sling it all over the place against the Dogs, or are they anxious that Justin Houston might be in his face all day and he might feel the pressure? Is the Hogs running attack likely to be much of a factor? And what about defense? The Arkansas D has been pretty horrendous the past two seasons, and since they’ve had no real competiton so far this year, it’s hard to tell if they’re really improved.
“I feel it’s a game the Razorbacks should win,” Doug said, “but it’s very conceivable that they won’t. Yes, the expectations of the Razorback fan base is sky high right now. Most people expect a 10-win season, with a Western Division championship and a Heisman trophy for Ryan Mallett (despite the lackluster first half he had against Louisiana-Monroe Saturday night). And if everything goes according to plan that could very well happen.
“But the defense (which has been awful the past couple of seasons, especially the secondary) has not been tested, and all of the Heisman trophy talk means that SEC defenses will be focused on Mallett like never before. And if memory serves me correctly, the Razorbacks have never won in Athens.
“So I think this game is just as big for the Hogs as it is for the Dogs. We will have a good idea Saturday if the Razorbacks’ defense will be up to the task against SEC offenses. I do think Mallett will have a good game, since the running game seems to be stronger, thereby taking some of the pressure off of him to create all of the offense by himself. And I think if the Razorbacks are to win this game, they need to be somewhat in control of it by the end of the third quarter. I really fear holding on to a slim lead or being behind in the fourth quarter in Athens. If that happens, the Bulldogs fans will make all the difference.
“But I’m hoping for the best and predict a 27-17 win for the Razorbacks. If the Hogs can win in Athens Saturday, and somehow come up with a win the next week against Alabama, the sky really will be the limit on what they can accomplish this season.”
I thanked Doug for a pretty good analysis of the game and then with a “Whoooo Pig Soieeee!” he headed back into that lovely dream land where Hogs fans actually believe they can oust Alabama from the top of the SEC West.
So here’s my view of Saturday’s game:
There’s no mystery about what Georgia has to do to beat Arkansas. Houston and company have to get consistent pressure on Mallett and on the other side of the ball the Dogs have to be able to establish a running game and make better use of their tight ends in the short passing game. Simple, but easier said than done, I know.
Mallett is a great passer and is going to get beaucoups yards and completions even on an off day. Mallett says he’s playing on a more even keel this year than last, when he tended to get “too excited and frustrated” in opposing teams’ stadiums, resulting in an 0-for-the-road record. But it probably wouldn’t take more than a sack or two to bring the more emotional player to the surface. He has a quick release, but he’s not terribly mobile.
As for Arkansas trying to run more on Georgia, as everyone is likely to want to do this season after watching tape of the South Carolina game, I don’t see it. They lost one of the better backs in their by-committee system when Dennis Johnson got injured, and their backs already have been fumble-prone this season. Plus, you’ve got to figure the Georgia defense is going to be determined to atone for its lame showing last week.
No, I think Bobby Petrino will stick with the girl he brought to the dance and have Mallett throwing it most of the time.
The big question is whether Georgia’s offense can keep Mallett off the field for extended periods with some sustained drives — assuming the offensive line finally performs up to the level that’s expected of them — and if Mike Bobo’s boys can put it in the end zone rather than having to settle for 3’s. If they can’t do it against Arkansas’ defense, well, I don’t want to think about that. …
So, bottom line, the Dogs have to run, Aaron Murray has to hit his receivers enough keep the Arkansas defense honest, and the Georgia defense has to withstand one of the nation’s best passing attacks.
We don’t know yet how good Georgia’s secondary really is, but I like their attitude, as reflected by Brandon Boykin, who told the Athens Banner-Herald, “I’m excited because I know they’re going to throw the ball this game. That’s their offense. What better challenge for us as a secondary that people are questioning? They’re going to throw the ball and they’ve got good receivers. It’s a home game for us, they’re ranked No. 12, it’s an SEC matchup. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
I think the Dogs win a tight one.
GAME DAY IN ATHENS
If you’re going Saturday but didn’t make it to the Louisiana-Lafayette game you’ll find a few noteworthy differences in Athens.
Because of the heavy restrictions put in place by the university after last season, there wasn’t much tailgating on historic North Campus, with the area around Myers Hall now seeming to be ground zero for the big spreads.
Merchants in downtown Athens had worried that chasing folks off from North Campus would hurt their game day business, but it turned out just the opposite, with a lot of folks spending the hours before kickoff (and even after the game had started) crowding downtown bars and restaurants.
Because of the more compressed time period for these noon games, a lot of fans apparently didn’t bother with tailgating and so the Tate Center plaza was particularly congested before the home opener and the line for the hot dogs and hamburgers offered outside the book store was quite long,
Meanwhile inside Sanford Stadium there was plenty of room to move around in the new Reed Plaza, which proved a popular addition with fans thanks to the new restrooms and concession stands. Yes, there were still lines outside the ladies’ rooms, but not as long as in the past. And the culinary offerings at the new stands have been expanded by the addition of fryers (forbidden inside the main stadium by the fire marshall), meaning French fries, chicken strips, funnel cakes and the like.
Reed Plaza is also a good place to meet up with friends — just tell them you’ll be on the big black “G.”
See you there. Go Dogs!
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