Georgia (1-1) vs. Arkansas (1-0)
Where: Fayetteville, ARK
When: 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Last meeting: Georgia 23, Arkansas 20, Oct. 22, 2005.
Georgia: After a dismal start to the season, the Bulldogs got things going offensively against South Carolina last week, winning a 41-37 shootout. A.J. Green got back in the act, Richard Samuel ran well and Joe Cox looked much better than in his first start, which is reason for optimism. Still, the Bulldogs turned the ball over three times again, giving them six on the season so far.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks featured one of the SEC’s top offensive attacks a year ago, and now have a big-armed quarterback in Ryan Mallett and an extra season of experience with coach Bobby Petrino’s playbook. Tight end D.J. Williams could also be in for a big day after Georgia’s defense struggled to stop the tight end against South Carolina a week ago.
Georgia: The Bulldogs allowed 37 points to a previously woeful South Carolina offense last week, but they’ve been put in too many holes thanks to special teams and offensive struggles. The pass rush should improve this week with the return of Justin Houston from suspension and a slower, drop-back quarterback in the pocket.
Arkansas: This was one of the worst defensive units in the SEC last season, and many of the same faces return. The Razorbacks didn’t get much of a test in their opener against Missouri State, but they’ve spent the better part of the past two months preparing for Georgia, so there will definitely be a game plan in place.
Georgia: It was a mixed bag for the Bulldogs last week as a fumble on a kick return and a bad snap on a punt led to South Carolina points. But Brandon Boykin’s 100-yard return of a kickoff was a highlight, and Georgia’s return men looked sharp throughout. Blair Walsh is 3-for-3 on field goals as well, including two of 50 yards or longer.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks struggled with special teams mishaps a year ago, but Petrino has put a renewed emphasis on the unit this year, with more starters getting reps on special teams and more time being devoted to them in practice.
Georgia: In four previous meetings, Mark Richt has never lost to Arkansas, including a 30-3 thumping in the 2002 SEC title game. Richt’s Bulldogs played inspired football last week with their backs against the wall, but it remains to be seen whether the coach can get his team motivated again this week.
Arkansas: Petrino has long been considered an offensive genius, but it was his defense that let him down a year ago. As Richt warned, however, teams tend to improve dramatically in a coach’s second season, and the Razorbacks have been game planning for Georgia for a while.
Offense: Richard Samuel vs. Arkansas’ front four. Samuel showed a vast improvement last week in breaking tackles and picking up the hard-earned yards on the ground. Arkansas starts two sophomores on a defensive line that struggled against the run a year ago, and Georgia would love nothing more than to kill the clock and extend drives by running the football.
Defense: Akeem Dent vs. D.J. Williams. With two of their top three strongside linebackers out of action last week and a game plan set to stop the vertical game, South Carolina picked Georgia apart underneath, exploiting their tight end, Weslye Saunders, to the tune of eight catches for 96 yards. Arkansas’ Williams in an All-SEC tight end and was the team’s leading receiver a year ago. Dent and defensive coordinator Willie Martinez will need to pay him a lot more attention than Saunders earned a week ago.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Arkansas 27