Here are the keys to victory as I see them for Arkansas' road game at Georgia tonight at Athens.
First, of all, Georgia is a double digit favorite for obvious reasons. They have more experience ... 11 junior starters and few sophomore and freshman starters. By the same token, Arkansas is loaded with first and second-year players in the starting lineup. That's not a good combination. That is not an excuse, just an observation.
Second, Georgia appears to be tougher and stronger in the lines, on both sides of the ball. That's an obvious liability for Arkansas. I don't like saying that, but it appears to be true. The Hogs looked a little tougher and stronger in their last outing as far as line play, but I wouldn't list it as a team strength, nor would I expect it to change this week.
So, I'll start out by listing my number one key to victory as a need for the Hogs to play tougher and meaner in the trenches. This will be a physical game, and the Hogs must at least create some stalemates up front if they expect to triumph. Again, I thought they did win a few battles up front last week, but not enough to be successful in SEC games. Some people point to turnovers as the problem last week, but I content that if the Hogs won more battles up front that the turnovers wouldn't have happened and the opposition would have had more turnovers.
The next big key for tonight's game lies with Arkansas' secondary. They must be equal to the task when Georgia spreads the field in hopes of finding one-on-one matchups against the Hog corners and safeties. Georgia utilizes a no-huddle offense with similarities to what Florida State has done the last few years. Mark Richt, the new Georgia coach, ran FSU's offense the last few years, and it is similar.
Arkansas will counter against Georgia's spread, no-huddle offense with its nickel package, or "Gator" back. The Gator is the nickel back and is played by Batman Carroll. The Hogs have used it about 60 percent of the time anyway. They'll open with it and just keep it on the field. The no-huddle is designed to catch defenses with no time to substitute when the offense adds wide receivers. Hence, the Hogs will just start with that scheme. John Thompson prefers it anyway and usually turns to it early in each series. A key will be how this light defense will handle the run.
The key matchup on the day will be the Hogs' corners against Terrance Edwards, Georgia's big, fast wide receiver. Edwards has talked much this week about his excited state knowing he will see man coverage. The Bulldogs will likely try to get Edwards in the slot against a safety. That won't happen since Batman Carroll plays the safety spot against the slot in the Gator scheme. So, we'll be watching Batman, a Georgia native, against Edwards in what may be the night's key matchup.
The special teams will be a key factor again, since this game could develop into a defensive matchup. At least, the Hogs are probably hoping it's a defensive matchup, since their offense has been slow to develop this season. So, special teams must play perfect for Arkansas to stay with the Bulldogs. The Hogs must do better in kickoff blocking. They started inside their 15 too many times last week against Alabama, and the Hogs must not commit fouls in kick protection that result in even worse field position.
Of course, a huge key will be how the Hogs' offensive line progresses. Will it take another step forward to build on the improvement shown last week at Alabama? Or, will it slide back into the abyss that was the UNLV and Tennessee games? The same unit will start with Shawn Andrews at tackle, Mark Bokermann at guard and Kenny Sandlin at center. Georgia's front was tough against the run versus a South Carolina team that has been among the SEC's most physical offenses over the last 1.5 seasons. If the Hogs can make some holes up front in this defense, it might be that this line can do some good.
The passing game must improve for the Hogs to triumph. How the Hogs do as far as pass protection (and it'll help if they can run the ball so play-action fakes hold the linebackers) will be a big key. There were seven sacks last week, and that can't continue. By the same token, Zak Clark must be quick to spot open receivers or throw the ball away. How Clark does in reading Georgia's defense and how quickly he reacts in the passing game will be a huge key for the Hogs tonight. And, by the same token, the receivers must run more precise routes and hold the ball when Clark delivers it on target. That didn't happen last week, and it must happen tonight.
Another key must be how the Hogs' new young receivers perform in a hostile environment. It appears that both Matt Jones and Marvin Jackson will play some (or maybe alot) at wide receiver against Georgia. Both are capable hands, but have had little experience at wide receiver. They are now full-time receivers and will improve in time. The key tonight will be how much they need to improve. It may be that they can step on the field and perform at a high level. It may be that they can't.
The final key will be the Hogs' tailbacks. Are they ready to play? There have been plenty of distractions this week. It appears Brandon Holmes may have run into some legal trouble, with some outstanding arrest warrants for speeding tickets and noise ordinance violations. Also, Cedric Cobbs and Fred Talley have both been slightly injured this week. Cobbs has a hamstring strain and Talley has a sore knee. Cobbs was used for only one play last week, a fumble that gave Alabama its second TD. Are the tailbacks ready to play? That will be a big key.
Keys to Victory: Georgia
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