State of the Hogs: Top 10 Keys (Georgia)

Arkansas and Georgia will both set up the tight end for possible big plays with solid running games. But can the Hogs find some punch in the fourth quarter? That might be the biggest key, as written by publisher Clay Henry. Here's his weekly Keys to Victory.

The flavor of the game won't change from last week when Arkansas and Alabama went toe-to-toe for four quarters, neither giving an inch on the running game. Georgia will bring the same mindset to War Memorial Stadium, a smashmouth attitude that Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon knows well.

Game time is set for 3:05 p.m. Georgia enters at 5-1 (3-1 SEC), Arkansas at 3-3 (0-3). Shannon has been on the opposite sideline from Georiga head coach Mark Richt. It goes back to Shannon's days at Miami when Florida State's offense was called by Richt. They faced off as coordinators many times in the Miami-Florida State knockdown drag outs.

Asked how many times, Shannon said, “I don't know. A lot is all I can tell you. Ten times? Maybe. I know him pretty well from having gone against him. He's doing a lot of the same things.”

Shannon said that it's the same stuff, but different every week in one aspect.

“What Coach Richt likes to do is run the toss and the zone plays,” Shannon said. “It doesn't ever change, but he'll have a new formation every week, a different flavor as far as formation. It will be something you haven't seen that changes alignment, but it's those same two plays.

“They are going to do things to make it easy for the quarterback as they try to avoid turnovers. And, they do what they do well. That's what I know about Coach Richt.”

Both teams will feature the tight end and that's where we'll start in this week's edition of the Top 10 keys to victory. Which team can utilize the tight ends the best?

Georgia has a good tight end in freshman Jeb Blazevich (6-5, 232). Shannon said the play-action pass is the weapon. Linebackers have to stop the run and the next thing you know, the tight end is running free.

“They use the tight ends in unique situations,” Shannon said. “They max protect sometimes. Sometimes they’ll play action and get him on the vertical game.

“But when you watch him, it’s a lot of short passing games. Things like that to try to move the sticks. Don’t put the quarterback in bad situations where he can get sacks or turnovers. It’s unique what they do with him, but they capitalize.”

Shannon expects a new wrinkle from Richt, but it will still be basic football.

“It is just football,” Shannon said. “That’s the one thing you enjoy about it, having the opportunity to play the game.

“They’re a running football team that does a great job of running the football no matter who’s the back end. the offense does not change. They run the wildcat. They line up in one back. They line up in two back. They run the power play. they run the toss play. so those are the plays that they run.

“Coach Richt and that offensive staff has always been that way for all the years I’ve known and watched Georgia play. It dates back to when I went against them at Florida State. And they want to just capitalize on things that you’re not able to do.”

The Hogs are doing similar things with the tight end, probably more than Richt, who lists three starting wide outs in his depth chart. Bret Bielema's depth chart goes with two wideouts and two tight ends, Hunter Henry and AJ Derby. It's the emergence of Derby as a featured weapon that is new. He raced 54 yards with a touchdown pass last week against Alabama.

Derby said the play went almost perfectly, but there was a twist in the early stages of a crossing route with Henry.

“I was supposed to go in front of Hunter, but I had to go behind,” Derby said. “Otherwise, it was perfect. Brandon Allen's pass was just perfect. I turned to stiff arm the first guy and just tried to run. I knew there was a defensive back there for the last few yards and I turned to find him, too.”

Derby's play should not surprise. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said in his spring evaluation in May that he was a welcome addition to the offense and could become a special player. Some wrote off those comments as just hyperbole, but Chaney looks like a wise coach at this point.

Here's what Chaney said in that interview with Hawgs Illustrated:

“He's a heckuva addition. He was unselfish and moved to that spot. He gave us a lot of freedom. He's a very talented tight end. I don't know where it's going to go, but I'm tickled to death to have him there. He's a good football player and will be very good for us in the fall. He can do everything. He's more talented than every player in that tight end room. He's faster than Hunter. He's got as good of hands as any of them. He's got a really side upside. We'll see how he plays because he's never done it. I'm optimistic because I think he's a great player. Barry Lunney told me that he wish he could take all of his tight ends after they've played quarterback for three years. You call it, he knows it already. Even in the quarterback room, he was as bright as any of them. He's got incredible football IQ and it shows up a lot.”

Lunney, the tight ends coach, recalls those comments and what some said about them, along with several comments from head coach Bret Bielema about the promise in the Derby move.

"I think what probably happened early on, a lot of people heard the hype -- both from Coach Bielema and Coach Chaney -- and rolled their eyes,” Lunney said. “It's a guy changing positions and they are saying positive things to help him out.

"But that's not how it was. We all knew immediately that he was going to help this team at tight end. He made plays immediately and there was a buzz around the team. Everyone could see it. It was exciting.

"The first thing you saw, he could catch it. He made big plays catching it. Then, you saw that he could be physical blocking on the perimeter. Now, the last thing that had to come, blocking as an in-line tight end on an SEC defensive end. You finally saw that this last week against Alabama. Now, it opens up a Pandora's box of options. He can do everything.

"You knew he could be physical. He'd played linebacker at Iowa. So he'd been in those physical situations. But it is still something to lock up with an SEC defensive end and strain. It's about fitting on a guy and then strain on him until the whistle. It's a fight and a strain. We see him able to do that now. I think that's what Coach B means when he says get down and dirty.

"That's what the scouts are looking for, too, can he hold up in that way. I think he's at a point now where you know he can.

"I think his confidence has grown. Now he can taste it. He's going to help us a lot more, too. He's able to do a lot of things for this offense."

Lunney said there was a definite plan of giving him a good taste early in the spring when the move to tight end was first made.

"Coach B and Jim, on the first day he moved, we intentionally got him a lot of balls,” Lunney said. “We wanted him to have a good feeling. That first two or three days, we didn't need to be putting him in bull in the ring or a lot of one-on-one run. We wanted him to see right away that it could work."

The talent is obvious.

"There are things that jump out now," Lunney said. "He can line up and play tight end and he can handle movement so we can put him in motion. He can move from one spot to the other and pick up his keys. He can play that hybrid fullback/tight end spot. He's just a natural there. And, now he can play the in-line tight end spot, lining up right next to the tackle and help with double teams or hold up one-on-one with a 5-star defensive end. Like I said, that opens up a Pandora's box."

Lunney said the tight end play has improved by leaps and bounds from last year.

"I opened up the Alabama tape from last year when we were getting into preparation for them this year," Lunney said. "We weren't very good at tight end. You turn that tape on and it was a freshman, Hunter Henry, and he played like a freshman. He was having trouble physically just to run. We are different now with Hunter, AJ and Jeremy (Sprinkle). You definitely see the difference."

So with that, we'll get into the weekly Top 10 keys for the Hogs to find a victory over Georgia.

Top 10 Keys to Victory

1, Tight end play – Alabama hit the Hogs with a big play at tight end last week in a 14-13 victory in Fayetteville. Obviously, Arkansas had the Derby catch and run for a TD. Linebackers must play run first in this game. Will they be ready when the play-action fake comes and the quarterback looks to Derby, Henry or possibly the Georgia tight end, Jeb Blazevich?

2, Offensive line play – The style of bodies in the offensive front are different. Richt likes slimmer athletic types. Bielema goes for the full body versions, looking for massive offensive linemen. Here's the weight across the front for Georgia: 298, 290, 295, 326 and 280. For Arkansas, you'll need a bigger set of scales: 326, 350, 315, 337 and 327. That's typical of Richt, who likes a screen game that requires more athletic linemen. But the goal is to still turn and hand the ball to the tailback. Arkansas couldn't get the kind of openings last week that were happening in the first five games. Georgia's defensive line, while quick and athletic, isn't as big. The Arkansas offense might can run straight at Georgia. Either way, offensive line play might be a big factor in what happens Saturday in Little Rock.

3, Depth – I list this higher this week because of the injuries and unknown with Georgia running back Todd Gurley, suspended indefinitely last week because of an autograph situation. Arkansas will probably be without middle linebacker Brooks Ellis. Freshman Nick Chubb stepped in for Gurley last week at Missouri and had 42 touches. Josh Williams finished the game for Ellis last year and also played well in a victory over Northern Illinois when Ellis was injured. It isn't so much what those two backups can do, it's what happens if they go down. Georgia moved backup strong safety J.J. Green to running back for emergencies since the third team tailback is out. Arkansas cross trained Braylon Mitchell at middle linebacker and also has prepared Daunte Carr to play, too. The Hogs do get alternating center Frank Ragnow back after he missed last week with concussion symptoms. The Hogs are a little banged up at running back, too. Jonathan Williams has a sore shoulder. Korliss Marshall has a thigh bruise.

4, Alex Collins – This goes right into the depth point in this top 10. Collins had his worst game of the season. Averaging almost seven yards a carry in the first five games, Collins was suspended for the first quarter for missing two lifting workouts, the second to study for a test in the academic center. He carried just six times for 13 yards, a 2.2 average. He also fumbled to setup the first Alabama touchdown. Bielema said they talked on Sunday and his mind is right. The Hogs will likely need a big day from Collins.

5, Fourth quarter – This could be the number one key in some minds. The Hogs have yet to score in the fourth quarter in an SEC game this season and weren't good in that area last season, either. The Hogs held the lead against both Texas A&M and Alabama in their last two SEC outings. They had the lead in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State (their last Little Rock trip) and LSU last year, but couldn't hold it. There's been a lot of talk about practicing perfect in the simulation of fourth quarter situations, but the Hogs have made lots of execution errors in games. They'll have to perform in the fourth quarter if they expect to end their SEC losing streak and beat the Bulldogs.

6, Turnovers – This was a big of a culprit last week as any in the near miss against Alabama. The Hogs lost two fumbles and their last possession ended on a Brandon Allen interception. They'll need to do better than three turnovers against the Bulldogs, a team that thrives on turnovers and rarely loses the ball. It's probably as big a key for an underdog trying to right the ship as any key you can name. The silly turnovers can be the killer, like last week when Kody Walker fumbled just short of the goal line without being touched, just changing the ball from his right to left hand. Those kind of mistakes have to stop.

7, The kicking game – The Hogs have made only two field goals (against four attempts). They botched their only chance at a field goal last week on a high center snap. They also had a blocked extra point. These are killers for an underdog. The Hogs also must field punts.They lost valuable field position time after time when D. J. Dean let short punts hit and roll. In a defensive struggle, that can be the difference in a game. Bielema said wet conditions played a factor in those situations. No matter, that can't happen against the Bulldogs. An underdog cannot provide help.

8, Wide receiver separation – The Hogs didn't get any last week, but that was a stalemate because their secondary shut down the vaunted Tide's wide receiver group, limiting Amari Cooper to just two catches. Henre' Toliver, true freshman, was brilliant at cornerback. He said he was surprised to draw the assignment of covering Cooper, but had “fun” all night long. Georgia's wide receivers can make plays. Michael Bennett is the leading receiver with 19 catches. Chris Conley is next at 14. After that, the next three top receivers are backs and tight ends. Who steps up to get some separation for the Hogs? Could it be Demetrius Wilson, finally full speed after ankle issues? Or will the Hogs have to work the short zones with the tight ends? Allen said this week that it's all about making plays on contested throws in the SEC and knows that's what it will come down to Saturday. He's probably right.

9, Tackling – It's too simple to list higher, but it probably comes down to tackling in the open field against good backs. Arkansas did not break many tackles against Alabama. Can they against Georgia? The Hogs made plays against T. J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, usually turning them to go sideline to sideline with good defensive line play. Linebackers and safeties arrived in a hurry. Can they do that to Nick Chubb or Todd Gurley? Georgia's top tackler are linebackers Amario Herrera (47) and Ramik Wilson (41). They combine for 11 tackles for losses. That's who Collins,Williams and Marshall will have to beat.

10, Goal line defense – Both teams have pounded the rock on the goal line. Gurley has eight rushing touchdowns, Chubb three. Williams has nine, Collins six and Marshall one. Chaney, the offensive coordinator, said the Hogs would spend extra time on short yardage situations this week after failing on a fourth-and-1 against Alabama. It probably will come down to who can make one yard in a key situation Saturday. It's interesting that both quarterbacks, Allen for Arkansas and Hutson Mason for Georgia, have almost identical statistics. Allen has rushed for 79, lost 44 and has a net of 35. Mason has gained 81, lost 57 and has a net of 24. Allen has two rushing scores, Mason three. Can one of those make a play on the goal line to turn this game? It may be THE key. -30-

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