The SEC football season is like Sunday dinner at grandma’s – everyone knows everyone and sometimes a little too well. The exception is that cousin who doesn’t get in from out-of-town very often. For the Georgia Bulldogs this year, that would be cousin Arkansas, a three win team in 2013, and Grandma doesn’t want a lot of talk about what went on last year.
“I didn’t expect to go 0-for in the conference, that’s for sure,” Head Coach Bret Bielema told Robbie Neiswanger of the Arkansas News Bureau.
One might wonder what Bielema did expect, implementing a pound the rock offense after inheriting a team built for Bobby Petrino’s quarterback centered attack. To remedy the situation, Arkansas added almost thirty new players and subtracted fifteen players that did not meet Bielema’s expectations. Still, the Arkansas roster remains a poor fit for Bielema’s philosophy.
Arkansas Key Departures
OFFENSE: Travis Swanson – C, David Hurd – LT, Javontee Herndon – WR, Zach Hocker – K
DEFENSE: Jarrett Lake – LB, Chris Smith – DE, Eric Bennett – FS, Robert Thomas – DT
Arkansas will miss Travis Swanson’s experience and skill both blocking and calling blocking assignments. While the offense will miss both Swanson and Hurd, Bielema made re-stocking and re-tooling the offensive line to meet his offensive attack a priority.
On defense, the biggest loss is second team All-SEC DT Chris Smith, but the Razorbacks do have eight players returning on defense so at least there will be some familiarity.
Arkansas Key Returning Players
OFFENSE: Brandon Allen – QB, Jonathan Williams – RB, Alex Collins – RB, Hunter Henry -TE
DEFENSE: Trey Flowers – DE, Tevin Mitchell – CB, Alan Turner – FS
Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, both Doak Walker and Maxwell Award nominees, will not only be the backbone of the offense but of the Arkansas team. Both rushed for 900 yards last year. With Arkansas’s offensive line retooled and restocked to improve run blocking, this pair could become as good as any rushing duo in the country in 2014. The immediate beneficiary of this one two punch will be quarterback Brandon Allen.
The Arkansas offense must receive improved quarterback play over last year, but Allen will have limited receiving weapons at his disposal. No team is successful in the SEC without good quarterback play, and it will be up to Hunter Henry and a dynamic rushing game to give Allen the support he needs to succeed. Henry is talented enough to be a future All-SEC tight end and he will have to play well for Arkansas to put together a passing game that will complement its rushing attack.
Arkansas Possible Impact Incoming Freshman and Transfers
Last year’s Arkansas offensive line was atrocious, but help is on the way and a lot of it. Incoming freshman Brian Wallace, a likely tackle, was recruited by Alabama, Georgia and Missouri and may play this year at guard. Some upperclassmen transfers will also join the battle for offensive line playing time. Sebastian Tretola was the No. 8 JUCO offensive tackle in the country and the 29th-best JUCO prospect in the nation before choosing Arkansas instead of Oklahoma.
Tretola began his career at Nevada before moving on to Iowa Western Community College. Cameron Jefferson is transferring from Nevada as a fifth year senior. (Nevada was punished by the NCAA for inadequate academic team progress, releasing players to transfer and play immediately.)
The Arkansas defense will receive the sizable addition of 6’ 2″, 340lb Bijhon Jackson. The Rivals 4-star DT will receive significant playing time.
If returning quarterback Brandon Allen falters, expect early enrollee Rafe Peavey to receive an opportunity. The Rivals 4-star recruit and lifelong Razorback fan was a late addition to the Under Armour All-American roster. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 73 yards and touchdown.
Outlook for Game
The Bulldogs will become the 10th different SEC team the Razorbacks have hosted in Little Rock since Arkansas joined the SEC. For the historic affair, expect some old-fashioned football.
Arkansas will pound the football for four complete quarters. Tactically, the Hogs will challenge the elite Bulldog linebacker corps and pass rushers to isolate the inexperienced Bulldog secondary as well as to wear down the Bulldog defenders. However, the simple truth is Arkansas is a physical and insistent rush first – and perhaps second – football team and Georgia must be strong up front for sixty minutes. Keep an eye on the Bulldog secondary. If Georgia’s safeties are consistently forced into run support this game will go deep into the fourth quarter.
Last year, the Arkansas’ linebackers played at a tremendous disadvantage due to extensive injuries. Also, Arkansas returns eight defensive backs from 2013. The Arkansas defense should be much improved. If Georgia’s rush game draws the veteran Arkansas secondary into the fray near the line of scrimmage, Georgia can score enough points to overwhelm Arkansas.
Arkansas receives a nice schedule break with an open date before hosting Alabama and Georgia back to back. The mid-season rest and the opportunity to complete the assimilation of new talent makes Arkansas a dangerous opponent for Georgia. And with the Bulldogs coming off three consecutive conference games, the last a road game at Missouri, Georgia will battle not only a rejuvenated Arkansas team but its own fatigue and attrition. This is not lost on the Razorback staff and “October 18, Little Rock” will be circled on the Arkansas calender.
It will be closer than many think, but the Dawgs can prevail in a close one. Georgia by 3, with kicker Marshall Morgan making the difference.