Category Archives: Arkansas Is Kind Of A Big Deal

The fall and rise of Arkansas

There’s a statistical story to tell about how quickly Sam Pittman has revived the fortunes of Arkansas football and you’ll find it here.  As much credit as he deserves for that, Chad Morris deserves the opposite for driving the program into the ditch, which makes for an unusual story of the guy who never had even been a coordinator before taking the job clearly being better suited for it than someone who was an acclaimed offensive coordinator and then ran a football team prior to arriving in Fayetteville.

That’s definitely not the usual career path.

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Saturday’s chess match

As indicated earlier, Dan Lanning’s job looks fairly simple to me:  take away the deep threat in the passing game and limit Jefferson’s ability to do damage with his feet.  There may be some tweaking to the scheme (particularly, as I mentioned, in playing more zone), but to me it seems like defensive success for Georgia will be more about execution than anything.  Yes, I’m probably guilty of oversimplifying here, but if the Dawgs maintain contain and force Jefferson to beat them with an intermediate passing game, I’m not seeing a lot of Hog points showing up on the scoreboard.

The question I’ve got is what happens on the other side of the line of scrimmage.  Does Odom dance with what brung him so far — and, let’s be fair, that’s been very good, as Arky is second in the conference in defensive ypp against P5 opponents — or does he throw a change up at Todd Monken?

The reason I ask is because of the Clemson game.  Yeah, I know the tendency to explain Georgia’s anemic offense in the opener is to chalk it up to injuries and the need to throw inexperienced players into the mix, but I don’t forget that Venables completely changed his MO for that game and had Monken… well, I hesitate to say confused, rather more like non-aggressive.  In any event, the 4.20 ypp Georgia averaged against Clemson is the lowest in Monken’s time in Athens.

Second lowest (4.36) came against Arkansas in last season’s opener.  In fourteen games, those are the only two in which Georgia’s offense was held below five yards per play.  I’ve got to think that Venables saw something in last year’s Arkansas game that helped convince him to take a similar approach.

My gut, then, tells me there’s definite value to dropping lots of defenders back in coverage in order to force Georgia to work its way down the field.  My head, though, says there is one difference for Saturday, and that is Monken has better weapons to deploy than he did in the two other games.  Most notably, the quarterback situation is vastly different from what it was when Mathis started against Arky, but the overall health of the offense is improved from the Clemson game, particularly when it comes to the receiving corps.

If Odom wants to stick with what’s worked so far, he’s facing a quarterback in Daniels who won’t be confused by zone looks and is also savvy enough to take advantage of a busted coverage or two (if you go back and look at the Texas A&M game, those were there, but Calzada couldn’t close the deal when it was offered).  He’s also going to have his hands full with Georgia’s tight ends, assuming Washington is back and able to contribute.

So, does he stick with his 3-2-6 scheme, swap it out wholeheartedly for something else, or mix and match?  He’s certainly been around the block enough to have more than one card up his sleeve, but going away from your strength is often a dicey proposition. Then again, if Monken’s prepared a game plan for that and you show up looking different, maybe that throws a wrench into Georgia’s offense.

That being said, if you’re Arkansas going into this game, you have to be thinking Georgia’s not going to let you score more than in the upper teens at best.  They only managed 20 against TAMU, the best defense they’ve seen so far, at a neutral site.  If that’s where the Hogs’ offense is going to land, they’ve got to do what they can to limit Georgia’s explosive plays.

Maybe this comes down to whether either team can get off to a quick start and put the other in a hole.  Both are capable of that.  We saw Georgia obliterate Vanderbilt in less than a quarter last week, while Arkansas took a 17-0 lead over the Aggies that it never relinquished and that allowed Odom to run his defense the way he wanted.

In other words, I don’t know how this will play out.  But I’ll be watching to see who gets the better of this chess game.

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Pace yourself.

Here’s a chart worth looking over:

At 2.1 plays per minute, Georgia ranks 108th nationally.  No doubt some of that can be chalked up to slowing things down due to big second half leads, but this is a team that operates at a deliberate pace, although it will resort to hurry up now and then.

Arkansas runs 2.25 plays per minute.  That’s 79th.  Briles doesn’t exactly race against the clock, either.

Between those figures and the likelihood that both defenses are going to deploy in a manner designed to make the offenses work their way down the field, the under (48.5) looks awfully good from where I sit.

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The other side’s third down

Yesterday, I showed you what JT Daniels has done on third down so far this year.  Here’s the story for KJ Jefferson (it’s the battle of two-initial quarterbacks!).

Looking at his situational stats, he’s not that hot on second down, either, with a passer rating of 72.68.  But he is friggin’ dynamite on first down:  25-33, 572 yards, 17.33 ypa, 15 first downs, 5 touchdowns, 1 INT.  That all adds up to a 265.30 passer rating.  Well over 40% of his pass attempts come on first down, which tells you that Kendall Briles knows when to dial up what works.  I assume Lanning will devise his game plan accordingly.

Jefferson’s strengths are running the ball and the deep pass.  He’s not particularly accurate in the intermediate passing game, which is indicated in Rollins’ stats.  It’s not going to surprise me in the slightest if the Dawgs play more zone to counter that than we’ve seen and it might be well worth your time to see how much Tykee Smith sees the field, since he played a lot of zone last season at West Virginia.

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“I think Georgia’s going to beat the shit out of them.”

These anonymous takes from eight coaches and team staffers who have either seen tape or been in games against Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and/or Ole Miss start off reading like some of the best rat poison/Dawg porn you’ve ever seen.

“They’re impressive up front, to say the least,” an SEC personnel staffer said. “Jordan Davis looks like he was created in a lab somewhere. Adam Anderson and guys like Quay Walker — when it comes to pass-rush ability, they’re elite. They’re really good players. Their secondary, I’d say it’s above average. They don’t have a whole bunch of first-round draft picks back there right now to my knowledge, but they’re good players.”

“They’ve got, no lie, like four edge rushers and they’ve got like six interior d-linemen they can put in there,” an SEC defensive coach said. “Those dudes are freaks. ‘99’ (Davis) gets a lot of hype and he’s good, but ‘95’ (Devonte Wyatt) and ‘88’ (Jalen Carter) — ‘88’s going to be special. He was my favorite player in 2020 out of all the defensive players in the country (in that recruiting class). That kid can play football, man. He’s playing real good. ‘95’s playing real good, too. He doesn’t look as imposing as ‘99’ and ‘88,’ but he probably makes the most plays out of the interior d-linemen. And then, of course, they’ve got those edge rushers, and Nakobe Dean’s playing really good.”

“I’d be very surprised if they won,” an SEC team official said of Arkansas. “I just think Georgia’s too talented. I just think it’s not even close, especially on defense. I think Georgia’s defense will just suffocate them. And Arkansas has kind of had a gauntlet, too. They had to play a full game versus Texas even though they won handily, and then had to play a full game versus A&M. Georgia’s going to be fresh. They’re going to be ready to go. They haven’t had to play a full game other than the Clemson game. I would be surprised if it’s close.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Georgia beat them 37-17 or something like that,” another SEC staffer said. “I think if Arkansas and Ole Miss played right now that Ole Miss would beat ’em. Arkansas’ going to lose in my opinion — based off personnel, they’ll lose to Georgia, they’ll lose to Ole Miss, they’ll lose to Alabama, and they may drop one more. I still think Arkansas is far from being an SEC West contender.”

But that’s just the defense.  Things seem to kind of defuse when the conversation turns to the other side of the ball.

“Arkansas has a really good front,” an SEC personnel figure said. “They do the ‘rush three and drop eight,’ and they can get pressure with three. And I think Georgia has a good o-line, but it’s not what you’re used to in the Kirby Smart era with the o-line at Georgia. I think their o-line is good. It’s not first-rounders and draft picks everywhere like they’ve had in the past. If they can get into some man-coverage situations, the receivers at Georgia can win, but Arkansas does a good job of understanding zone coverage and baiting you into throws. But I would say the Georgia o-line versus the Arkansas d-line would be a matchup that Arkansas has a little bit of an advantage.”

… As for Georgia, the offensive line isn’t the only aspect of the Bulldogs’ offense that opposing SEC staffers described as being solid but not elite. Wide receiver is another.

“The big knock I would say on them is that they don’t have anybody in that receiver room that’s super scary to me,” a personnel official said.

And there are at least some around the conference who put QB J.T. Daniels in that same “solid but not elite” category.

Okay.  Tell me more.

“One of the biggest question marks with Georgia is at quarterback,” a personnel figure said. “Daniels has shown that he’s good enough at times. But how good is he? And can he win the game if they need him to win a game?”

JT is 7-0 as a starter at Georgia.  They’ve never needed him to win a game in all that time?  If that’s the case, here’s hoping the streak continues.

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Unstoppable, meet immovable.

Looks like something’s gotta give Saturday.

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This week’s meeting of the Overachievers Club is now in session.

I have seen more than a few folks suggest this week that Saturday’s game reminds them of two previous Georgia games, the 2017 Mississippi State game and the 2015 one against Alabama.  Apparently, Arkansas is like MSU in the former and Georgia in the latter.

Honestly, I’m not feeling it.  That 2017 Mississippi State team’s rep coming in was built on a whipping of an LSU team that lost a couple of weeks later to Troy and finished 9-4.  Arkansas’ resume already has two wins over top-20 teams.  In 2015, Georgia actually found itself as the favorite in several quarters; nobody in Vegas sees the Hogs in a similar light.

But the real reason I’m not seeing it is because there’s been a complete absence of cockiness and trash talk emanating from Fayetteville this week.  Sam Pittman isn’t Dan Mullen.  And I doubt his team makes a pre-game effort to stare down the Dawgs, as Georgia tried with ‘Bama.  (Yeah, that worked well.)

Some of that — probably a lot of that — is because of the personal relationship Pittman and Smart share.  There’s too much respect flowing both ways for either to let their teams show their ass.

But there’s another factor that I think is in play here.  Arkansas under Pittman is an impressive 11-3 against the spread.  And, if anything, that’s intensified in 2021.  The topper is that, per Bill Connelly ($$), Georgia’s been overachieving, too.

Georgia Bulldogs: 75% vs. the spread, +14.4 points per game. The only time the Bulldogs didn’t cover this year was when they allowed South Carolina (+31.5) a garbage-time touchdown to turn a 40-6 cover into a 40-13 loss. The Dawgs have been rampant and just passed Alabama for No. 1 in both SP+ and ESPN’s FPI.

Arkansas Razorbacks: 100% vs. the spread, +13.3 points per game. The Hogs were projected to improve, but they’ve done more than that — they’ve already taken down both Texas and Texas A&M, and they’re 4-0 for the first time in 18 years. Now they get a shot at fellow overachiever Georgia.

Georgia’s already beaten the spread by more than 25 points in two games this season and the Dawgs have absolutely trashed Connelly’s SP+ as a predictor, missing Georgia games by an average of 16.4.

Both of these teams are way beyond living up to expectations so far this season.  Trash talking that kind of effort seems pretty silly.  In other words, save the comparisons for another time.

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Start fast and stay hot

Georgia’s gotten off to a good start this season.  The defense has only allowed six points in the four first quarters it’s played.  Guess what, though?  Arkansas has been even better.

If you combine what UGA and Arkansas have done this season in the first quarter, you get a score of 104-6. Georgia has given up all six of those points while scoring 70. Arkansas has hung 34 first-quarter points on its opponents this season while giving up zero.

Not only that, but, as Brian Fremeau points out, the Arkansas defense has been damned good in the second half.

The Razorbacks defense has been particularly suffocating in the second half this season. On 20 non-garbage opponent second-half possessions, Arkansas has surrendered only three touchdowns. Only one of the other 17 drives in that non-garbage second-half set managed to cross midfield, a turnover on downs forced against Rice in Week 1. After tying the game up on the next possession against the Owls, Arkansas has not trailed in the first or second half of a game since. Last weekend, the Razorbacks allowed one 67-yard Isaiah Spiller touchdown run in the third quarter, but surrendered less than 50 yards combined on all other second-half possessions against the Aggies.

He goes on to say this about the game, though:

… For their part, the Bulldogs have the most impressive team efficiency metrics by far this season, and they would be a clear FEI No. 1 team this week if they were not also held back somewhat by more modest preseason projection numbers. FEI projects Georgia to win by 18.8 points over Arkansas, consistent with the performance expectations of an elite team against a merely good team.

Maybe that’s the case on the spread, but it sure seems like everything points to taking the under Saturday, which is something like 48.5.

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Friendly banter

Just a couple of opposing coaches joshing with each other

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said he reached out to Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning this week, sending him a text message.

“I texted Dan Lanning (Monday) night and I told him he doesn’t need to put any more blitzes in because he can’t run them all anyway,” Pittman said.

“He sent me back 11, he drew it on a piece of paper and sent me back all 11 of them rushing. I said, ‘Hell, we’ve already seen that blitz.’ “

One of the funnier vibes this week is that the coaching staffs seem more at ease with each other than do the rabid online portions of their respective fan bases.

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Third Arky thoughts

I ain’t got nothin’ but love for Sam Pittman.  As a Georgia fan, how can you not?  He’s just a good guy and he was a great assistant coach in Athens as Kirby Smart built his program.

He’s also turned out to be a helluva head coach.  That Brian Fremeau tweet I posted this morning about Georgia’s net ypp?  Arkansas is fourth on that list, with a 3.16 net ypp in non-garbage time play.  That is a well coached team, in other words.  No, the Hogs don’t approach the Dawgs in the talent and depth department — something that might be exacerbated in Arkansas’ first road game of the season — but this team is no slouch.  They’ve earned their 4-0 record and top ten standing.

And, to be honest with you, there is one intangible that concerns me.  Sam Pittman is playing with house money right now.  Nobody expected Arkansas to be in as lofty a position after four games as they are now, just like nobody is expecting them to run through their current four-game gauntlet (TAMU, Georgia, Ole Miss and Auburn) unscathed.  A loss on Saturday isn’t going to be anywhere near the end of the world for Pittman and his team.  That makes them dangerous.

A well coached team throwing out everything but the kitchen sink to pull off an upset is a little scary.  Especially with a noon start.  I expect Kirby will have his team ready to go.  He’d better.

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