Monday Grid Update, 9/13

With two non-conference tune-ups out of the way, the University of Arkansas (2-0) has turned its full attention toward this Saturday's SEC opener at Georgia (1-1, 0-1).

The University of Arkansas will go to the University of Georgia on Saturday without one of its quartet of tailbacks who also doubles as a big-time special teams weapon.

But the Razorbacks do feel like they are taking a much better defense to Athens for an 11 a.m. game than the one the Bulldogs ripped to shreds last season in Fayetteville.

Arkansas currently has the SEC's top defense and nation's fourth-ranked unit after holding Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe to one touchdown and one field goal in 8 quarters.

"I've been very excited and pleased with the way that our defense has been playing," Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. "The knowledge of the schemes; the speed we have been playing with; how fast we're getting to the football and the effort we have been playing with."

That's a far cry for the UA defense last year that was involved in a 52-43 loss as the two teams ran up and down the field without much opposition.

That really happened to Arkansas after linebacker Jerry Franklin was ejected for making contact with an official.

"I think we're ready ,'" Arkansas senior safety Rudell Crim said. "We're doing a great job focusing on the game in front of us. Not on the game behind or the game ahead."

Crim said the lofty ranking is nice and all, but the proving really begins this week.

"It's a great achievement," Crim said. "We've been working hard all spring and summer. We got beat a lot last year and took it to heart, Right now we are focused what we do and keeping that ranking."

The Razorbacks (2-0) face Georgia and then host Alabama on CBS the following Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

"We are where we wanted to be after the first two games of the year, as far as the record goes," Coach Petrino said. "We certainly have a lot of work ahead of us this week in practice to improve before the Georgia game."

Due to a "bowel" injury suffered in Saturday night's win over Louisiana-Monroe, Dennis Johnson had surgery and will miss a rematch with the Bulldogs.

"When he came off the field , our strength and conditioning coach (Jason Veltkamp) said he talked about falling on the ball and landing on the ball," Petrino said. "Initially we thought it was a rib injury, but that was not the case. When we were out on the field , in the locker room toward the end of the game, he started throwing up so they knew it wasn't a rib injury."

Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, who said the surgery happened in Little Rock , said there is no timetable for the return of Johnson, who is the school's all-time leading kick returner.

"We are not even thinking about timetables for his return right now," Petrino said. "We're just thinking about his health. Hopefully he'll improve. He is doing well. He was up walking. He is very, very sore from the surgery . We are encouraged by everything the doctors are telling us on how he is doing health-wise."

Arkansas will get former running back and current receiver De'Anthony Curtis and fullback Van Stumon some reps at tailback in case he they are needed.

Sophomores Ronnie Wingo and Cobi Hamilton, junior back Broderick Green or true freshmen Eric Bennett and Maudrecus Humphrey could take Johnson's place as the kick returner.

Georgia (1-1, 0-1), coming off a 17-6 road loss at South Carolina, might be without its biggest offensive weapon in junior wideout A.J. Green, who is currently appealing a four-game NCAA suspension.

UGA head coach Marc Richt said he expects to hear something on Green's status by Wednesday, but Petrino said Arkansas would prepare as if Green will play.

Senior safety Rudell Crim, who manned a cornerback slot in the aforementioned game last season, says he had Green about 50 percent of the time last season and that the defense we'll be ready either way.

"As a defense, we are are going in with the same attitude and focus whether he is there or not," Crim said.

He also said the defense's improvement is from better communication this season, from tackling better and from focusing on the task at hand.

Arkansas is also the top-ranked offense in the SEC and 10th in the country, but has struggled out of the gate in the last two games, something that Petrino hopes doesn't happen for a third time.

""We do feel like we need to be a lot more consistent," Coach Petrino said. "We need to stay away from negative plays so we don't get behind the sticks and stay away from penalties, take care of the ball better, and run the ball better. Those are the things we're really going to work at."

The Razorbacks lost all four of their road games last season with Mallett completing just 39 percent of his passes in losses to Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and LSU.

"As a team I think we have matured over the past year to understand how to travel and get ourselves prepared for road games," Mallett said.

Mallett threw for 400 yards in the win over Louisiana-Monroe albeit it was an "off" night.

""I guess it's a good thing when you feel like you are out of sync and your quarterback threw for 400 yards in one game and 300-something in the other game," Petrino said. "We do feel like we need to be more consistent. We need to stay away from negative plays so we don't get behind the sticks and , take care of the ball better and run the ball better."

Petrino said he definitely wanted his offense to have a better balance than 400 passing yards and 99 rushing.

"We like balance," Petrino said. "When you are balanced on first and 10 you have a chance to be successful."

Of course, as Mallett pointed out there were not a whole lot of room to run the ball with so many defenders close to the line.

"They kept putting 8 or 9 in the box," Mallett said.

The game does allow several Georgia products on the Arkansas roster a chance to play closer to their homes such as Elton Ford.

"We're excited about it," Ford said.

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