Another week. Another long road trip. And another Saturday the Dawgs will be without their top tailback in a key SEC ballgame.
Todd Gurley didn’t travel with the team to Little Rock on Friday morning, meaning he’ll remain suspended on allegations of NCAA rule-breaking for a second week as Georgia goes to face Arkansas.
The Dawgs hope they can manage to win without him, as they did last week, when Hutson Mason, Nick Chubb and Brendan Douglas threw a combined shutout of Missouri. The defensive unit put together its best performance of the season – a product that, together with near-flawless execution in every other aspect of the game, amounted to a 34-point win which’ll go down as one of Georgia’s most impressive in the Mark Richt era.
Even without Gurley, the 5-1 and now 10th-ranked Classic City Canines have a lot of positive momentum following their fourth-consecutive win.
But, to quote the great Earl Weaver (and stay with the baseball theme), “Momentum is only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher.”
As great as last week’s win was, it only means something if Georgia can follow it up with another one over Arkansas. Finding a way to beat them on the road would put the Dawgs back in “the conversation,” and establish them as the favorite to oppose the eventual division champion out of the West in Atlanta.
Arkansas is no longer in contention to get there after two consecutive losses that dropped them to 3-3, to last place in the SEC West and out of the top 25. The Razorbacks were taken down by 6th-ranked Texas A&M in overtime and No. 7 Alabama in a one-point decision last Saturday. Both were games that could’ve easily gone the other way.
Georgia will be Arkansas’ third-straight top-10 opponent. And still without a win in SEC play, you’ve gotta know they’ll be hungry to get one versus the Dawgs.
This year’s edition of the Razorbacks play a different brand of football than they did the last time they met with Georgia. Under second-year head coach Bret Bielema, they’ve moved from slinging the ball downfield every other play to a system that focuses on pounding it. And they’ve done that well this season.
Their ground game, led by co-feature backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, is 11th in the country in average yards per game and 13th in total yardage. The Razorbacks are also the 19th most productive scoring offense in college football.
They run the ball eight ways from Sunday behind an offensive line that doubles as a road-grading crew for the Arkansas Dept. of Transportation during the offseason. And though they do throw the ball more than their reputation would advertise, their offense lives and dies with the rush. For the first time in a while, the Dawgs’ defensive success won’t depend on coverage and pass pressure, but on whether or not the front seven can make key stops.
Can Mike Thornton, Sterling Bailey and Ray Drew eat up the rush at the point of attack? Can Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera make stops when those ballcarriers get into the open field between the hashes? And can Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd and Lorenzo Carter seal off lateral runs to the edges? These are the questions that’ll probably dictate most of whether or not Georgia can win on Saturday.
Arkansas averages 6.2 yards a pop on the ground – the 7th best in the nation. Can you guess who’s 6th with 6.3 yards per attempt? Georgia.
With or without Gurley, the Dawgs’ offense is at its best when it uses the run to set up the pass. Last week, Nick Chubb and Brendan Douglas’ 210 yards on the ground served as a great foil to the passing game, which in its second week with Malcolm Mitchell back, produced 169 yards through the air. That’s the second-best game this year behind South Carolina.
Versus an Arkansas defense that’s really good in the trenches, Mason and his corps of receivers will need another good-looking game to put Georgia in a position to win.
The Dawgs and Razorbacks look like two pretty equally-matched teams. Barring something unexpected, neither team should run away with this ballgame. The outcome will more than likely swing on changes in momentum and who makes the least number of mistakes.
Georgia has what it takes to get a win, but they’ll have to avoid turning the ball over and capitalize on the opportunities they’re given. It’d be unrealistic to say the Dawgs can put together a performance as sharp as the one they had last weekend in Columbia. But play a game that’s more than half as good and they’ll be flying back from Little Rock Saturday night with their sixth win in hand.
The Prediction: Georgia 27, Arkansas 24
Let’s hope the ride back for Georgia fans is as pleasant as the one we made from Missouri last weekend. That drive down 78 is a lot longer when you’re 5-2 than when you’re 6-1.
(Written by Mr. Clay Reynolds. Clay is a senior at UGA, majoring in Journalism, who has painted with the Paint Line as an alternate in the past. As a passionate Dawg fan and sports enthusiast Clay has graciously stepped up this year as our resident writer! Thank you Clay!)