Georgia wasn't at its best against Arkansas, and it gets much tougher from here
Saturday’s game against Arkansas, by all accounts, was supposed to be a cakewalk for No. 4 Georgia.
The Razorbacks had lost 19 consecutive SEC games since 2017. Granted, they play in the SEC West, but you’d think they’d be good for a win or 2.
The Bulldogs? Well, they’re the Bulldogs. Three-time defending SEC East champions, top 5 team, Playoff aspirants, etc.
But in the world of college football, nothing’s a sure thing until the clock hits zeros.
And for one half of football, Georgia was flat out bad. Remember the movie “Space Jam?” It resembled that in a way, but with football instead of basketball.
Never mind that the Dawgs had registered just 177 yards of total offense or were just 1-of-12 on 3rd-down opportunities. They were penalized 11 times for 98 yards, and you could almost see Kirby Smart’s hair graying even more with every flag thrown.
“I felt like I was in an extra-innings baseball game. It took forever and we weren’t scoring points,” Smart quipped after the game.
The score was 7-5 at the break. Georgia needed the old “bloop and a blast” to tie the game up. Or, something like that.
Fortunately, against a team like Arkansas, whose own offense didn’t look any more inspired, the margins are fairly wide. And in the end, reality set in as the Dawgs hung 32 points on the hapless Hogs to turn a 7-5 deficit into a 37-10 blowout, and you wonder if they found a stash of “Michael’s Secret Stuff” in the locker room.
That, or Smart gave them a good, old-fashioned Saban-style you-know-what chewing.
Crisis averted for now. But there’s still 9 more regular-season games to go. Those margins for error? Thinner and thinner as the weeks go on.
And there’s still a big question at the top of the list: Who starts at QB Saturday against No. 8 Auburn? D’Wan Mathis received the call out of the gate and, despite a decent opening drive, never got it out of neutral. Stetson Bennett IV spelled him and had a composed, calm performance. Will the staff chalk it up to first-game jitters for Mathis or will it feel that Bennett has a clear edge right now?
Oh, by the way, there’s also JT Daniels, who dressed for the game but seemingly wasn’t ready, leading to Bennett leapfrogging him on the depth chart.
(Questions surrounding the quarterback position in Athens? At least one thing about 2020 is normal.)
Jokes aside, it doesn’t matter who’s behind center Saturday. The Dawgs can ill afford to get off to a slow start against the Tigers, who got all it could handle from No. 23 Kentucky before eventually holding serve for the victory on the Plains.
And if that’s enough, there’s Tennessee at home, followed by a trip to Alabama, which has a chip on their shoulder after last year. Then there’s the aforementioned Wildcats, followed by the Cocktail Party game against Florida.
I’ve felt that the Bulldogs would have done well to be 4-1 going into the game against the Gators, which has become the de facto SEC East championship game in past years. This year probably won’t be any different. But their performance Saturday, at least for 30 minutes, was a little worrying.
Hats off to Arkansas and Sam Pittman, by the way, who had absolutely nothing to lose as its conference losing streak now sits at 20 games. Pittman is still a well-loved figure in Athens, but he jumped on an opportunity to return to Fayetteville, this time as a head coach, knowing that he’d have an uphill battle washing the stink off a once-talented Razorbacks program. It won’t happen overnight, so he deserves the time he needs to do so.
But Georgia didn’t put up much of a fight to start the game. Smart’s not putting that all on the quarterback, and rightfully so.
“Regardless of the QB, we cannot hold people, or jump offsides, or have penalties,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in all our quarterbacks. I still have confidence in D’Wan. We just didn’t execute.”
Execution will be a part of the game the Dawgs will need to get right on Saturday against Auburn. Otherwise, they will find themselves on the outside looking in on the SEC — and College Football Playoff — race.