I mentioned in my SEC Power Poll post that Georgia’s wins against Arkansas and Missouri look better with each passing week. The computers agree. Georgia is now second in Sagarin’s rankings, helped by a 5-1 record against teams in his top thirty. Georgia has also risen to third in Football Perspective’s SRS rankings.
People are just falling over themselves about Arkansas, a team fresh off two straight shutouts of SEC West opponents. You’d think that would make for a strong perception of Georgia. After all, the 38 points Georgia scored in the first half against the Razorbacks was a record under Richt. It was the last game of this season, at least to date, in which Arkansas was dominated. But if Bruce Feldman is any indication, that’s not how the game is being seen in retrospect. Oh sure, Georgia won… the first half.
After the debacle that was Bielema’s first season at Arkansas, much of the talk was how suspect the defensive personnel was and about how dismal Bobby Petrino’s final couple recruiting classes had been. Enter Smith, who brought with him his quarter-quarter-half D and a premium on tackling fundamentals based on a system his old boss Greg Schiano had devised almost a decade ago at Rutgers. After allowing 45 points in the opener at Auburn, the Hogs started to show progress. In mid-October, they held Alabama to just 2.1 yards per carry and only 227 total yards in a 14-13 Crimson Tide win. Smith, though, says the moment he feels the Hogs turned the corner was earlier this month in a 17-10 loss at No. 1 Miss. State.
“We got back from the Miss. State game and there was a sense, ‘It’s time,'” Smith said. “We tackled the best we had tackled and we communicated really well. We really only had one communication problem, and that had led to a touchdown.”
Smith’s sense was spot on. Since then, they’ve outscored their opponents — LSU and Ole Miss — 47-0. But the defensive transformation had been in the works before the wins started to come. In their last 10 quarters at home in SEC play, Arkansas has outscored three ranked opponents — Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss — 73-7. Even more impressively, in their last 14 quarters in the SEC, facing four ranked teams, the Hogs have allowed just two touchdowns.
That’s some pretty nifty cherry picking going on there. It’s almost as if that first half in Little Rock – and Nick Chubb’s 202 rushing yards – never happened. Sure, the Dawgs relaxed a little in the second half, but it’s not as if the outcome was ever in doubt.
There’s a certain amount of irony in all this. It’s great that Arkansas is generating more respect as the season closes out, but what if that doesn’t carry over to the Dawgs in the public eye? (Note that Feldman doesn’t even mention the Arkansas win in his summary of #9 Georgia.) If the computers like Georgia more than people do, how does that play in to what the selection committee thinks? Especially if Arkansas beats Missouri Friday?