I’m really loathe to do a preview of the game tomorrow, for two reasons.
First of all, there’s no way conceptually that I can top my South Carolina preview. (I may have been way off on the points scored, but I think it’s part of the genetic make up of both schools that nobody wins by more than a few points.)
Second, and more relevantly, as I posted earlier this week, based on what we’ve seen so far out of the Dawgs, there’s nothing that Georgia could do in Fayetteville that would surprise me. If you want an apt breakdown of what’s behind that, check out cocknfire’s post about the game over at Team Speed Kills.
… Georgia’s defense fared roughly the same against both Oklahoma State and South Carolina on a per-play basis, but gave up 13 more points to the Gamecocks — perceived to be a far lower-powered offense — and allowed far more yards per rushing attempt and total yards to South Carolina than did N.C. State. And yet that same defense limited Oklahoma State to 127 fewer yards, and a yard fewer per rush and 1.6 yards fewer per pass than did Houston. (In fairness to Georgia, they also allowed 0.8 yards fewer per passing attempt to South Carolina than did N.C. State, but the Gamecock passed far more against the Dawgs than against the Wolfpack by design, so some of that is to be expected.)
Georgia struggled against a Big XII defense that couldn’t keep Houston from ringing up 512 yards of offense, but ended up scoring 41 points against what is at least believed to be a solid SEC defense. The Dawgs rushed for an extra half-yard per carry and averaged a full three yards better per passing attempt against South Carolina than against the Cowboys.
Got that? That’s a bizarre bunch of facts. Although I will say this: if you’re an optimist, what you can take out of that is (1) there was obvious improvement on the part of the offense in the second game and (2) the defense didn’t play any worse than it did in the first week; it was simply on the field much more against South Carolina. Now that’s all great, but you can’t dismiss Spurrier’s playcalling as one of the big reasons the game played out as closely as it did. And Petrino is no slouch in that department, either.
So I don’t know. For Georgia to be 1-1 right now, after going -5 in turnover margin against two credible D-1 opponents, is pretty remarkable. I’m skeptical that the Dawgs can continue to hemorrhage turnovers at that same rate and win games, but I can’t believe they’ll keep running a negative margin week after week.
Nor is the home team exactly an open book. Arkansas was awful defensively and on special teams last year. Even if you want to accept the argument that the Hogs are bound to be better, well, just because, exactly how much better is it reasonable to expect them to be? It seems like most observers are putting a lot of faith in Petrino, who’s coming off of back to back losing seasons, and Ryan Mallett, who’s facing his first real defense in two seasons. But I’m not really hearing anybody say something special about the job the Arkansas defense is going to do.
With all of that, I’m not going into prediction mode. Instead, I’ll simply list a few things I’ll be looking for as I watch the game tomorrow.
- Does Joe Cox take another step forward? Lest we forget, he completed 70% of his passes and had a passer rating of 160 against South Carolina. That ain’t chopped liver, especially against a defense that’s generally considered better than the one he faces tomorrow night. But he’s got room to improve in areas like decision making (I’m still shaking my head over the Norwood interception).
- How many carries does Mike Bobo give Richard Samuel? To date, the answer has been “not enough”. It was disappointing to see Samuel disappear for that long stretch in the first half last week when he was punishing defenders and running with a purpose. If Caleb King plays, I’ll be interested to see how the carries get distributed.
- What happens when Branden Smith has the ball? No need to elaborate on this one.
- Does the defensive line begin to dominate? Houston is back. Cornelius Washington showed signs of becoming a factor at defensive end with a sack and a half against South Carolina. Hopefully the coaches will be able to leave Owens and Atkins in place in the rotation at defensive tackle.
- Does Orson Charles keep it up? I love this kid’s potential.
In the end, of course, none of that may matter in the game’s outcome. Come Sunday, we may be talking about the key role Mike Moore or Drew Butler played. Or Mike Bobo’s astute use of personnel. Or Ryan Mallett’s escapability against the rush. Or how the Dawgs finally covered the tight end. I honestly have no clue.
Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.