It's always sweet when you win on the road in the SEC. Just the way Arkansas took control in the final minute of a 31-24 victory over Georgia made it even sweeter. Here's the pre-game top 10 list with thoughts from Sunday.
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. But he was darn good at Athens. No, there were misses. But he was really good for most of the day, completing 21 of 33 for 380 yards. Some of the national talking heads said it was a "Heisman moment" when he took the Hogs to the winning touchdown in the final minute. He was zip, zip, zip on those three wonderful strikes to D. J. Williams and Greg Childs. This game will serve him well. Mallett doesn't lack for confidence, but he needed to have a winning moment at game's end. The more times you do it, the better you are at it.
2) Defense. I've never said this is a great defense and we are reminded of that with some of the big plays given up in this game. But they mostly got up and kept fighting. Most of those big plays did not end up in the end zone, a good sign. If you can live to play another down, you give yourself a chance. The defensive front continues to improve. The tackles and ends are solid, just as I thought in preseason. Jake Bequette had a Kodak moment with 54 seconds left when he sacked Georgia QB Aaron Murray. That picture is the cover of our magazine and will be around for a long time.
3) Offensive line. There were some good moments for the O-line. Protection wasn't bad. Ryan Mallett got some pressure, but was sacked only one times. The Hogs got six sacks on Murray and knocked the ball loose on one of them, his helmet loose on another. The Hogs didn't get much of a running game, but there were some creases. The backs didn't always take advantage of what was there and can improve. When measured against Georgia's line, the most veteran area of that team, the Hogs at least held its own in this category.
4) The Unknown. Some things are beginning to show up that we expected and some unknown factors are starting to crystalize. The special teams are getting better, so this isn't so much an unknown anymore. The Pistol appears to be an offense that might not be perfect for Ryan Mallett, in that he's not going to be a runner out of the Shot. We thought we might see Brandon Mitchell running some plays in this formation, but maybe that has to wait. Or, maybe it's being saved for Alabama. No doubt, the Hogs used more of the offense this past week. Some things we didnt' see in the first two weeks and they clicked for TDs. The plays that went for TD passes to Chris Gragg and Ronnie Wingo had not been until this week. I'm also guessing that there are some new wrinkles left in the bag for Alabama, too.
5) The Georgia atmosphere? It was crazy in the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs hit some plays on offense. Until then, the Hogs kept the Georgia crowd quiet. When the road team is coasting with a 24-14 lead, it gets quiet behind enemy lines. But the Hogs did perform well when Sanford Stadium was at the peak of its zany big self with Bequette's sack and Mallett's quick strike TD drive at the end. The Hogs also survived some intense humidity. They said it was brutal after the game, but there didn't seem to be any real sags by the Hogs because of either the humidty or the crowd.
6) Big Plays. It's still a bit of a problem for the Arkansas defense, but the Hogs came up with the big ones at the end. They made the game winners that counted and they didn't have any major problems as far as turnovers. When you play on the road in a hostile environment and don't give the other team a turnovers, that's making big plays, or avoiding bad ones. The Hogs still have to do a better job in deep pass coverage. They have to find the ball a little better and make big plays.
7) Smashmouth. Can either team muster a tough running game? Georgia came the closest to doing that, but it wasn't really a huge problem. Arkansas did not run the ball well enough for the third week in a row. Running backs have to be more decisive in their cuts. The Hogs obviously miss Dennis Johnson, out with surgery. I've thought for sometime that he is the best runner on the team. He's likely out for the season. The other backs must improve, but they didn't fumble. That was a big plus, and their protection was decent.
8) Wide receivers. If you like good wide receiver play, this was a fun game. Both teams had big plays from their wide receivers. Joe Adams was a step away from several touchdowns. Greg Childs had the big one at the end. But despite losing A. J. Green to suspension, the Bulldogs still featured a fine set of wideouts. The Hogs dropped a couple, but this was a fine road game for the UA receivers.
9) Special teams. You couldn't have asked for anything better from this group of Arkansas special teamers. The only major error was the block in the back from Jerico Nelson that wiped out a TD from punt returner Joe Adams. The kicking bordered on the spectacular. Dylan Breeding converted a first down with a fast dash on a bad snap, then boomed his punts for a 47.3 average. Even Ryan Mallett had a nice quick kick. Zack Hocker's 48-yard field goal to end the first half and Alex Tejada's kickoffs were out of this world. Georgia's kicking game was good, too, but this might have been a winning edge for the Hogs, a big key in the victory.
10) Turnovers, penalties and intangibles. The obvious key is the end of game play by all areas of the UA team. The final minute was as good as it gets. So the winning stretch and maturity at the end has to be the big intangible. The Hogs didn't commit a turnover, a big part of the victory. There were some penalties that jumped out. Joe Adams got caught up in a bad spot on the Georgia bench and lost his cool (the Bulldogs wouldn't let him up in a mass of players while celebrating). Tramain Thomas might have cost the Hogs a field goal with an unsportsmanlike penalty after his interception, the day's only turnover. The Hogs ended up getting one first down (and would have been in field goal range) before having to punt because of the 15 yards they lost for Thomas taking his helmet off while running off the field.
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