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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines: Arkansas Razorbacks

Georgia hasn't played Arkansas since 2005 when D.J. Shockley hurt his knee in a Bulldogs win, forcing Joe Tereshinski into his first start of his career a week later against Florida.

Needless to say, a lot has changed, so I sent along some questions about this year's Arkansas Razorbacks to beat writer Alex Abrams of The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, and he sent back some very interesting responses...

David Hale: Ryan Mallet looked pretty sharp in his debut in Week 1, but it wasn't against top competition. Do we have a good idea yet of what we can expect from him in his first real SEC game?

Alex Abrams: It's hard to tell how Mallett will perform in his first SEC game, in part because Arkansas has played only one game this season and that was a 48-10 rout of Missouri State. Mallett, however, showed in his debut that all the hype about him is real. He's a big quarterback with a strong arm, and he was more accurate than many people expected after sitting out last season. But he has yet to face an SEC defense, so we'll have to wait to see how he does against Georgia's fast defenders.

DH: How much of a weapon can DJ Williams be in this game? Is Bobby Petrino drooling on the film after watching South Carolina dismantle Georgia's D using the tight end last week?

AA: Williams is definitely a target in Arkansas' offense, but I don't think he'll be used nearly as much as he was last season when he was the team's leading receiver with 61 catches for 723 yards. Bobby Petrino appears to have more confidence in his young wide receivers than a year ago, and that was evident by the fact that Williams caught only two passes for 20 yards in the season opener. But the tight end is still a big part of the offense, and Petrino will have no problem using Williams against Georgia if he feels there's a mismatch there.

DH: Arkansas finished last in the SEC against the run last season and, size-wise, the Hogs' D line doesn't seem like a great matchup against Georgia's big guys up front. What are the chances Arkansas can slow Georgia's running game? How has the rush D improved over last year?

AA: Arkansas' defense is still one of the team's biggest questions. The front line gave up only 82 yards rushing against Missouri State, but I don't think anyone is confusing Georgia with Missouri State. Defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard is from Bainbridge, Ga., so this is a game he admitted he has been looking forward to for some time. If the Razorbacks hope to contain Georgia's tailbacks, Sheppard must have a big game. But all of Arkansas' defensive linemen got bigger over the offseason, so I'd be surprised if they got pushed around as easily as they did last season. But we'll have to wait for an answer on that one as well.

DH: Georgia doesn't have a lot of big names on offense this year the way it did last season, but they still have A.J. Green. Who gets the burden of having to cover A.J. and what's the game plan to stop him?

AA: Cornerback Ramon Broadway will probably have the challenge of trying to defend A.J. Green, and the way Broadway made it sound on Wednesday, he's not that worried. The junior actually said that while Green is a wide receiver who's ahead of his time, he's not much different than the other receivers Broadway has faced at Arkansas. I'm not so sure that this is the case. But Arkansas' coaches and players have talked all week about Green, so they definitely have a plan to stop him. To do that, they must get pressure on Joe Cox and force the quarterback to make some mistakes.

DH: Arkansas had some problems on special teams last year, and Georgia's kick returners had a huge day against South Carolina last week. Are the Razorbacks worried about that matchup?

AA: Arkansas' players watched Georgia's win over South Carolina, so they know all about the 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Petrino has made special teams more of an emphasis in practice this year, and the coverage teams are filled with starters instead of just backups and newcomers. The hope is that the starters will be able to tackle and not give up as many big plays. But Arkansas' Dennis Johnson returned the opening kickoff of the season opener 91 yards for a touchdown, so the Razorbacks will try to counter with their own speedy return man.

DH: This will be my first trip to Fayetteville, so fill me and the Georgia fans heading to the game in -- what should we do to keep ourselves entertained until the 7:45 pm (Eastern) kickoff?

AA: Well, you could always stop by Wal-Mart's headquarters, but that's nothing impressive to look at. No, seriously, Fayetteville is a great college town that reminds me of a smaller Austin, Texas. Dickson Street is the main college strip and there are some good restaurants and bars on this row. The biggest problem with Fayetteville is that it doesn't have that one restaurant that every visitor must eat at when in town. But Herman's and Doe's are popular local spots if you're in the mood for some meat.

Big thanks to Alex for helping out with this. You can read his coverage of the Razorbacks HERE or check out his exceptional Arkansas blog HERE.


Anonymous said...

This will be the third team in a row that really has based a lot of their season's success on beating us. I think that says a lot for our program.

Chance said...

Anon 4:11,

Averaging 10 wins a season during CMR's tenure will have that effect.

Anonymous said...

Do they remember that SEC Championship beating they took?

Drew Williams said...

David: Three words. Doe's Eat Place

Anonymous said...

You're right this does show a lot about our team... weakness. Everyone seems to think we're the team they have a chance to pick off. Ask Auburn and Tennessee fans and they'll tell you the same thing. So far our performance late last year and early this year hasn't done much to dispell our vulnerability.

David Hale said...

Thanks for the advice, Drew. I'm actually excited to go to Arkansas... which is something I assumed I'd never say.

Patrick said...

I have a hard time believing that AJ Green isn't all that different from the other SEC WR's that Arky DB has faced... I guess we will find out Saturday. Go Dawgs!