I've been asked to expand my Top 10 lists. Why stop there? Why not a Dynamic Dozen? Why not a Baker's Dozen of things to watch for the Arkansas-Georgia football game Saturday? Could you come up with a top 50? Please, give us one for every member of the travel squad!
But there is so much meat in each paragraph, I am giving you about 50 things to watch. Hence, I'll stick with a solid Top 10 for this week. Don't want to over do it. Don't want to fill everyone up past a healthy state of mind before kickoff. We'll leave you wanting more, I'm sure.
1) Ryan Mallett. How is he going to perform on the road. He wasn't always perfect in road games last year, especially at the start. Perhaps too excited, he was sometimes a little high on his throws at the outset of Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and LSU games. How is he going to come out of the chute against Georgia in his first game this year. That's perhaps the biggest thing to watch in the game. Garrick McGee said Mallett lost his poise in one stretch of the first half against Louisiana-Monroe, getting a little confused by the constant blitzes by the Warhawks. Maybe a few simple passes to start the game are in order. Maybe Mallett just lets it rip like he did in the first half of the Georgia game last year when he was razor sharp. Either way, this is a big key to the game. The Hogs want to quiet what promises to be a loud and hostile crowd and make it quiet between the hedges.
2) Defense. This one probably is No. 2 because it was the biggest question mark heading into the season. Some answers appear to be coming to the front after two weeks, but how can you know for sure when the foe was Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson called this is a trip into "man country." You tend to agree with that analysis and want to watch to see if the Hogs take men onto the field on the defensive side of the ball. I think they do, but it's "show me" time for Robinson's gang. It's as simple as watching how the defensive front matches up with a veteran Georgia offensive line, a unit that has been challenged by its coaches to play more physical this week. See which way the pile moves, especially early. The Hogs are going to have to play 7-8-9-10 players in the front because a hot day is forecast. Can the backups hold up under pressure? It's something to watch for four quarters. How does Byran Jones do on the road for the first time in SEC play? Yes, the trench battles will be awesome to watch.
3) Offensive line. We've already mentioned a veteran Georgia offensive line. The Bulldogs have battled some injuries in preseason and over the last two weeks, but might be healthy and full force for this game. Can the Hogs match that unit with a solid performance from its own offensive line. That may be the biggest key to the game. Some have suggested the Bulldogs were timid last week. They have been challenged by their coaches. Arkansas will challenge its offensive line to step up after not actually performing to expectations in the first two weeks. The running game, perhaps because of the ULM blitzes, was not there last week. If the O-line can take a step up, perhaps it is there this week, despite a tougher, faster, bigger opponent.
4) The Unknown. That covers a lot of territory, but there are so many unknowns to watch for this week. Many of them surround the lack of a tough foe for Arkansas in the first two weeks. How much did Bobby Petrino save for Georgia. And it could be that we are talking about offense and defense. Petrino mentioned in his weekly radio show at the Catfish Hole on Wednesday that the Hogs haven't shown much of their offense so far. I don't think much of the defense has been trotted onto the field either. It's been mainly zone with just a sprinkle of blitzes, defensively. There is a thought that the Hogs have a physical front that hasn't been used, perhaps with three ends, adding Damario Ambrose at outside linebacker. We saw that some in the spring and in August. It might be needed against Georgia's power stuff. There has been some offensive formations we saw last year in The Pistol, or The Shot. But it was mainly pass plays out of it, not the dynamic running plays that some suspect Chris Klenakis brought from Nevada. Is this the week that stuff is unveiled? What about the screens and draws to combat the blitzes? There is more unknown on the other side of the ball. Is this the week that Aaron Murray is turned loose. Georgia's rookie QB wasn't given many choices. He didn't go through progressions, throwing to the first man most of the time. Of course, the ultimate unknown is A. J. Green. Will the Georgia wideout be cleared by the NCAA? Georgia's defense is a base 3-4, but the Bulldogs pulled a defensive lineman to cover South Carolina's three wide look most of last week. That allowed South Carolina to play smashmouth inside. How will the Bulldogs play the Hogs when there are three and four wide receivers spread? Sounds like they may stick with a conventional front? Watch for that. Is this the week we see Greg Childs in some fun matchups? Does Ronnie Wingo break loose on some screens? Wow, there is a lot of unknown this early in the season.
5) The Georgia atmosphere? How wild is it going to be at the outset Saturday. Bobby Petrino didn't endear himself to folks in Atlanta when he left the Falcons three years ago for the Arkansas job. Columnists have continued to hammer on the UA boss and there have been some nasty columns this week, including one that finished with the line "time to die." A little much. But how will it be Saturday? I was asked on a Georgia talk radio show if Arkansas is bringing extra security. Naw. That's on Georgia. Actually, I expect some boos when the Hogs come on the field. If Petrino makes himself the focus by wailing on officials at any time in the game, he'll hear boos again. But I suspect this will be something early and then the game will be the focus for the fans. The best thing the Hogs can do is score early and take the noise factor out of the game. They are prepared for noise. They know how to utilize a silent snap count and communicate with hand signs when plays need to be changed. It will be something to watch, however. Road games can be interesting and the atmosphere will be a part of the game. Arkansas is playing a freshman center. Georgia is playing a freshman quarterback. How they play in this situation is a big unknown and certainly worth watching.
6) Big Plays. Who gets them and who does not? That's a big key. The Arkansas defense gave up big play after big play the last two seasons. Is that over? Can the Arkansas defensive backs matchup against a long bunch of Georgia receivers? The UA corners aren't a tall bunch. Isaac Madison and Ramon Broadway have done well so far, but they didn't see big, tall athletes in the first two weeks. Georgia hasn't gone down the field much with a redshirt freshman quarterback, but I bet they do this week. It will be something to watch early and throughout the game. Can the Hogs keep those Georgia wideouts from making big plays?
7) Smashmouth. Can either team muster a tough running game? Arkansas hasn't. Georgia tried at South Carolina, but got out smashed by a freshman running back in Columbia. Who can play smashmouth in this game? Georgia plays two fullbacks. They will try to hit Jerry Franklin, the UA middle backer, on every play. That will be a battle. This may be the week you see Jermaine Love in the middle some because Franklin is going to need a rest. Franklin was ejected during last year's Georgia game, a big point of the game. The Hogs were up 21-10 when that happened. It was downhill after that. Franklin wants to make an impact after leaving his team high and dry with the ejection last year, but he'll need some help. Watch to see if Love gives it to him.
8) Wide receivers. Obviously, Green's availability is key. But the Hogs need their wide receivers to take it to another level. They are veterans. Most are juniors. Can Joe Adams make big plays in this game? How about Greg Childs and Jarius Wright? They didn't always click on the road last year. One of the big disappointments for the wideouts last year came against Alabama and Ole Miss. They had drops and perhaps didn't compete for every pass like they did at home. How will Georgia play them? Will they come up in press? Can Arkansas get off the line and punish that coverage? If you wanted to watch these battles on every play, it would be worth the price of admission. If these guys are on their game early, it might make Georgia change schemes and that might lead to a big day for D. J. Williams and the tight ends.
9) Special teams. Maudrecus Humphrey takes over for Dennis Johnson on kickoff returns. He's talented, but a true freshman. How will he do in this atmosphere? But you can look at other areas and wonder the same thing. Placekicker Zach Hocker has been on the field for only one field goal in two games. He's a true freshman making his first SEC trip. How will the UA special teams operate this week? It's been good with fine results so far, but this is probably the strongest point for Georgia. It's a matchup that the Hogs hope to get a push from, but that may be asking a lot with the number of veterans in the UGA special team lineup and the youngsters the Hogs are playing. The cover teams should be good for Arkansas. And it's obvious that Joe Adams is a threat as a punt return specialist. He was a step away from some long ones against Georgia, but he may have to back up a few yards for the Georgia punter. However, this might be a time the Bulldogs don't want to outkick their coverage. Joe Adams might make them pay.
10) Turnovers, penalties and intangibles. Well, this is a list all by itself. The Hogs have been in the minus category for the first two weeks. It was an area they won for the season last year. Can the Hogs go on the road and avoid beating themselves? The focus all week has been ball security and taking care to not beat yourself. It's not really a change of priorities. The Petrino staff has always done well in this area. It's a coaching point so that shouldn't surprise. The crowd noise can affect the offensive operation. Will the Hogs have enough poise to operate smoothly? it hasn't been a huge problem at home, but this is a different situation. The intangibles cover leadership, maturity and mental toughness. They are things that Petrino has preached in the offseason. They want to be tougher in the fourth quarter. That's where this game likely will be determined. Leadership has been solid so far, but there haven't been any real chances to let go of the rope. The Hogs haven't faced adversity. There is likely to be a point or points where Georgia grabs momentum. How will the Hogs perform when they are up against it. Yes, there is a lot to watch for this week.
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