ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart spent the week challenging everyone — the fans, the media and most importantly his team.
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs were determined not to overlook No. 8-ranked Arkansas, and that focus was reflected in the 37-0 win on Saturday.
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“We preached that all week, one series at a time, not getting ahead of ourselves,” Smart said. “We felt like Arkansas had a really good team, but if we were patient, while still being aggressive and physical that we could at least impose some of our own will.”
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That was exactly what happened as Georgia pulverized a good Razorbacks football team.
Stetson Bennett delivered again, managing the offense and avoiding turnovers against a well-coached Arkansas team. Bennett was only 7-of-11 passing for 72 yards, and the Hogs helped by dropping a forced throw. But the fifth-year senior carried out his mission. Bennett also flashed the running ability Todd Monken likes so much, converting a third down with a 9-yard scramble. It’s a bit surprising Carson Beck didn’t get some snaps.
RUNNING BACK (B)
Dell McGhee showcased determined runner Zamir White, who had a team-high 16 carries and gained 68 yards with 2 TDs, including a 15-yarder. James Cook was the most efficient back with 87 yards on 12 carries. Kendall Milton showed the highest upside Saturday, his 11-yard run through traffic one for his growing highlight reel. Kenny McIntosh had 57 yards on 10 carries, but most impressively, the longest play of the game with a 27-yard reception. Still, no explosive runs over 24 yards this season from the backs.
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It was a workmanlike day for the pass catchers, with Ladd McConkey (3-27) the only one with more than one catch. Kearis Jackson, Jermaine Burton and Jackson Meeks all had a catch, while jumbo target Justin Robinson had a second drop in as many games. Curiously, UGA did not target its leading receiver, Brock Bowers, nor did it throw to returning tight end Darnell Washington. For all the talk of downfield blocking, none of the backs have yet to spring a run longer than 24 yards this season.
OFFENSIVE LINE (A)
Arkansas invited Georgia to run, and the offensive line obliged to the extreme extent of 57 carries for 273 yards in pound, pound, pound fashion. Broderick Jones entered the game at left tackle in second quarter, moving Jamaree inside to left guard. The coaches’ film review will determine if the move is becoming more permanent. There was a motion call on Warren McClendon and a hold on Jamaree Salyer, but both infractions were minor in the grand scheme of the line’s best performance of the season.
DEFENSIVE LINE (A+)
Sam Pittman knew what his Razorbacks would be up against, and he was aware of the psychology and innards of the scheme — and Arkansas still could not do a thing about it. Devonte “Pit Bull” Wyatt made himself an extra million in draft stock with his dominance, 6 tackles and 2 sacks. Jalen Carter was credited with just one tackle, but his push was disruptive. Jordan Davis had two stops and looked like an All-American on his limited snaps. Nolan Smith is showing improvement in his run defense.
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Smart turned the Wolfpack loose, and Adam Anderson showed why he’s a solid first-round NFL pick with 5 stops and a sack, Channing Tindall had 5 tackles and Quay Walker had 4 stops. Nakobe Dean, of course, was seemingly all over with 4 tackles and 2 sacks. It always seems like Dean has more tackles than he is credited for. Trezman Marshall worked his way into significant snaps and made 3 stops.
The only real complaint Smart had was no turnovers, but Arkansas attempted only 16 passes. Christopher Smith had a holding call, and Latavious Brini missed a tackle, but the Hogs simply didn’t get to the secondary very often. Of course, they also didn’t find any open men, an indication that this group has become assignment sound even after losing 8 defensive backs last summer. Good coaching, good development.
SPECIAL TEAMS (A-)
Smart downplayed the three illegal formation calls — two of them back-to-back — but this is glaring for Todd Hartley, who oversees the punt teams portion of special teams. Conversely, give Hartley credit for a new punt block look Pittman said he hadn’t seen and Daniel Jackson blocking a punt and Zamir White recovering for a TD. Kearis Jackson no longer looks like the best punt return option, showing shaky judgment. McConkey looked more explosive with his opportunities against Vanderbilt. Jack Podlesny remains in his groove with makes of 46, 30 and 37. Time for him to breathe.
When Kirby Smart dials up the focus, this group looks unbeatable. Smart wants the team to learn to manage itself and play to a standard, and the 2021 group could be that breakthrough unit. Beyond the focus, Smart’s fourth-and-1 decision at the Arkansas 35 in the first quarter sent the right message. Dan Lanning was a step ahead of Kendall Briles all day. Todd Monken showed he’s capable of more than just dialing up wide-open football, showing his versatility in a ground-and-pound affair.