LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas sophomore running back Alex Collins capped an impressive opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown run Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.
The rest of the first half quickly went downhill for the Razorbacks.
No. 10 Georgia responded by scoring 38 unanswered points to end the half, gashing a shorthanded Razorback defense and taking advantage of critical Arkansas turnovers while cruising to a 45-32 win.
The Bulldogs (6-1 overall, 4-1 SEC) dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball while handing the Razorbacks (3-4, 0-4) their 16th straight conference loss.
The defeat was a stark contrast from the previous two SEC games for the Hogs. Arkansas entered the fourth quarter with leads in an overtime loss to Texas A&M and a one-point loss to Alabama, but Georgia asserted its dominance early and often Saturday.
“In that first half, we weren't ourselves,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “The only person responsible for that is me. I guarantee 100 percent that I told them that's on me. Don't know what we did a little bit different.”
Georgia running back Nick Chubb had his second straight big game starting in place of suspended star Todd Gurley. Chubb ran for a career-high 202 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries a week after racking up 143 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries at Missouri.
“I felt more comfortable back there in the backfield,” Chubb said. “... Todd has big shoes to fill, but I’m coming in here and playing hard”
Chubb had 127 of his yards against Arkansas on just 12 first-half carries. The Bulldogs outscored the Tigers and Razorbacks a combined 79-32 in back-to-back convincing wins without Gurley. Georgia has remained in the driver's seat to win the SEC East title despite playing without the All-SEC back.
“Obviously, the first half was about as good as you could ever hope a first half to go,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I’m very impressed with how we played.”
Arkansas junior quarterback Brandon Allen completed 28 of 45 passes for a career-high 296 yards. But he also threw two interceptions, lost a fumble which was returned for a touchdown and was sacked three times while facing near-constant pressure from the Georgia defense.
“He cares a lot about this football team,” Bielema said. “When you're the starting quarterback, you probably take way too much criticism and way too much reward when it comes your way. But I expect him to respond really, really well.”
The Razorbacks turned the ball over four times in the loss, leading to 21 Georgia points. Arkansas wound up outgaining Georgia 422-386, but the Bulldogs outgained the Hogs 250-161 in the definitive first half.
Georgia's dominant offensive performance came a week after Arkansas' defense held Alabama to just 227 yards in a 14-13 loss. The Razorbacks were clearly affected by playing without sophomore middle linebacker Brooks Ellis (bruised knee), then had to adjust even more when it lost freshman cornerback Henre' Toliver to an injury and senior linebacker Braylon Mitchell to a targeting call on the same drive in the second quarter.
“The big thing for us is we're just paper thin,” Bielema said. “We've got to do a better job of just continuing to develop our depth. … The good news is Brooks is coming along very well. I was excited to watch Josh (Williams) play. I can't say specifically if they went right at him, but obviously it was a first start for him against a good, efficient run game. And (he) did a lot of really good things, but to start a new mike (linebacker) was a learning experience for us all.”
Mitchell's targeting call was one of several costly penalties for the Hogs. Senior cornerback Tevin Mitchel and receiver Demetrius Wilson were each flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
“I don't think Braylon went after him or tried to go high or anything like that,” Bielema said of Mitchell's targeting penalty. “But (quarterback Hutson Mason's) falling, he's falling. He's trying to go hard. You're in a full sprint. It's really kind of hard to control yourself. But obviously they felt he launched or targeted and you've got to pay the piper.”
Arkansas opened the game with a promising, methodical scoring drive, but only wound up with six points to show for it. The Razorbacks ran the ball on 12 of 13 plays and converted two third downs before Collins' touchdown run, but John Henson had an extra point blocked for the second straight week, this time by Georgia senior defensive end Ray Drew.
The Razorbacks picked up five first downs on the opening drive, but had just three on their next five possessions.
Georgia answered the opening score quickly, with Mason hitting Chris Conley for a 48-yard gain on the first play of the ensuing drive. Mason's 1-yard quarterback sneak capped the quick, five-play possession and the Bulldogs converted the extra point for a 7-6 lead.
Arkansas failed to take advantage of redshirt freshman De'Andre Coley recovering the ensuing surprise onside kick at the Georgia 45-yard line. Allen left the game after falling on the ball while being sacked for a second straight play. Redshirt freshman Austin Allen handed off on a third-and-long while Brandon was evaluated by the training staff and threw a few passes on the sideline.
Georgia continued to pick Arkansas' secondary apart on its second drive. Mason overthrew a would-be touchdown, but also made several key throws to move the Bulldogs down the field and set up Marshall Morgan's 37-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-6 with 14:21 left in the second quarter.
Allen returned on Arkansas' next series, but the Razorbacks were forced to punt for a second straight possession.
Arkansas would have forced a Georgia punt on its next drive, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on cornerback Tevin Mitchel after the third-down stop extended the drive. Chubb broke a 43-yard touchdown run a few plays later to extend the lead to 17-6 midway through the second quarter, taking advantage of poor angles from Razorback linebackers and safeties.
Georgia gashed the Arkansas defense for 207 rushing yards a week after Arkansas held Alabama to 66 yards on 32 attempts.
“It's not so much that you make a mistake or something goes wrong,” Bielema said. “It's how you respond. And we didn't have the right response in that first half, especially defensively. I think they understand that. They had done some really good things before that performance in the first half. I told them I really just didn't recognize some of the things I saw out there today, to be quite honest.”
Arkansas' defense lost Toliver and Mitchell on Georgia's next drive. Toliver went down with an injury after a Georgia first down, while Mitchell was ejected on a targeting call for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Mason inside the Hogs' 10-yard line. Chubb's 3-yard touchdown drive extended the lead to 24-6 and the game started getting out of hand.
Collins fumbled a pitch from Allen on Arkansas' next play from scrimmage and Georgia capitalized when Mason found Michael Bennett for a 7-yard score one play later. Then Allen fumbled when he was hit from behind on the Hogs' next drive and Georgia freshman Dominick Sanders scooped up the ball and returned it 54 yards for a score to give Georgia a commanding 38-6 heading into halftime.
“We felt very in control,” Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd said. “We felt they (were) ready to tuck their tails and run.”
Collins finished with 11 carries for 31 yards, his second straight sub-par week after also struggling when he was suspended for the first quarter of the Alabama game. Junior Jonathan Williams ran for a team-high 108 yards on 18 carries.
“He's a very good player that's in a little bit of a rut,” Bielema said of Collins. “And we've got to do everything we can to get him out of it or find the next man in.”
Arkansas showed signs of life in the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns to cut the deficit to 38-19. The first came when Allen found senior receiver Keon Hatcher for an 8-yard touchdown to cap a 12-play, 71-yard drive at the 6:30 mark.
Allen cut the lead in half when he lofted a high pass to tight end Hunter Henry for a 4-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 2:05 left in the quarter, a score that was accompanied by Adam McFain's first extra point of the season. The score came after Bielema was ignored for a second straight week while rushing on the field and trying to call a timeout prior to the fourth-down snap.
During the drive, the coaching staff pulled left tackle Dan Skipper after he was called for a chop block in the red zone.
Left guard Denver Kirkland shifted to tackle and senior Luke Charpentier subbed in at guard. Skipper sat out the remainder of the touchdown drive and the Hogs' ensuing possession before returning to the game.
Arkansas was without sophomore running back Korliss Marshall, who missed his second game of the season (Nicholls). Marshall was suspended during the week and will miss three or four weeks, Bielema said after the game.
“There were some choices he made away from the game that are going to keep him out for a while,” Bielema said. “The good news is, I had a pretty spirited conversation with him on Monday or Tuesday. Took him out of our program for the week and met with him on Friday. He's only got one more opportunity to get it right.
“And if he doesn't get it right, then it'll probably be one of the saddest stories in my coaching career. Because he's got a lot of talent and he's got a great heart. Just made some poor choices and those things won't be rewarded in our program, I guarantee you that.”
Arkansas started the fourth quarter with the ball and a chance to pull closer, but Allen was picked off by Georgia sophomore Quincy Mauger. The turnover, his second interception and third turnover of the game, led to Mason's 36-yard touchdown pass to Conley, effectively sealing the game.
The Razorbacks threw 30 times while trying to mount a comeback in the second half, with 215 of Allen's 296 yards coming after halftime during a game in which he was hit numerous times and felt near-constant pressure from the Georgia defense.
“Some of those outside pressures really had a big-time effect,” Bielema said.
The Razorbacks never seriously challenged in the second half, but were able to score two fourth-quarter touchdowns to record their first fourth-quarter points in SEC play this season.
Freshman receiver Kendrick Edwards went up over a cornerback on a fade route to haul in an impressive 4-yard touchdown from Allen with 10 minutes left. Collins' 6-yard touchdown run with 5:05 left capped the scoring.
Arkansas' tight ends were a bright spot in the pass game. Sophomore Hunter Henry had five catches for a team-high 92 yards and the touchdown, while senior AJ Derby totaled 45 yards on three catches.
Arkansas will try to snap its three-game losing streak when it hosts Alabama-Birmingham in a nonconference matchup in Fayetteville at 11 a.m. Saturday.
“We're going to try to get to four (wins),” Bielema said. “And that's this week. It's a 1-0 mentality. … That mentality came more out of when I was on a losing streak as a coordinator then when we were on a winning streak.
“Because it's the feeling of that loss and all that work and you get no reward out of it except for a loss. Then it can kind of compound on you. You've got to get them to forget those things. We definitely can't let Georgia beat us twice.”
Drew Morgan stretches towards the goal line after a reception.
Henre' Toliver sacks Hutson Mason.
Trey Flowers pressures Mason.
Jared Cornelius makes a catch against the Bulldogs.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated
Georgia 45, Arkansas 32 (Final)
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