On Saturday, the Arkansas Razorbacks will take the field for the first time in what feels like forever, and with it comes the promise of a new chapter in Razorback history. Many Razorback fans will be excited to see the team after an especially long offseason filled with uncertainty if football would even be played, and everybody will be ready to officially move on from the historic disaster that was the Chad Morris era. It feels like the night before Christmas for those who have been invested in this team no matter what. We have a new coach, we have a new quarterback, Mike Woods and Treylon Burks and Trey Knox are back, football is back, and the SEC is back. We should all be excited just to be here, and more than just the game itself, Saturday promises to be a celebration of the sport as it feels like the first full week of football this year.
Then reality will hit. Arkansas faces the No. 4 team in the country, the Georgia Bulldogs. Despite questions at quarterback, Georgia always seems to have a loaded backfield that will be led this year by Zamir White, and they will appear to feature some good receiving talent led by George Pickens. Also, their defense looks to be great once again. Lest we forget, this team went 12-2 last year and just missed out on a college football playoff appearance with a loss against LSU in the SEC championship game.
Most Hog fans are not picking us to beat Georgia. That’s to be expected; however, I’d take this even a step further and warn against trying to learn much of anything from this game. It’stempting with the return of football following everything that has gone on, and I know this game will likely be Monday-Morning-Quarterbacked to death next week. Fans will especially be excited to see how our new offense looks.
However, keep in mind, this is a horrible matchup for the offense against a Georgia defense that was ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring D, yielding just 12.6 points per game. They only gave up two rushing touchdowns all year last season, and none of them were by running backs. The Bulldogs return eight starters on this side of the ball this season.
Sure, we almost certainly have more talent on offense, but we also have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, a somewhat reworked offensive line, and not much time to get in meaningful practice in the offseason. That’s a lot of moving parts with little time to prepare.
Second, there are no warm-up games. Nevada and the other non-conference opponents (excluding Notre Dame) were supposed to be the closest thing to a preseason for Arkansas. This is straight into the fire, so be prepared to see some opening day miscues.
Finally, it cannot be understated that the Hogs are coming off arguably the worst season in program history. Chad Morris is certainly to blame, but based on performance, this was an awful team last year. What is certain is now Sam Pittman faces the biggest rebuilding project in Razorback football history. What happens on Saturday will be baby steps.
With that in mind, I don’t like to think of the upcoming game against Georgia in terms of “keys to the matchup” or “player position battles.” Frankly, the score line doesn’t figure to be important other than whether the Hogs can cover the spread. Instead, I think fans should watch for small things that might indicate that perhaps there is some hope for this team this year.
Here are some things to watch for against Georgia:
Can Franks look okay?
How will his mobility be affected following his season-ending surgery over a year ago? What could he possibly bring in the future? Can he limit the mistakes like the interceptions thrown by Nick Starkel and can he show that he’s willing to push the ball a little more downfield than Ben Hicks? I know this is a low bar, but anything better than awful would be an improvement.
Can the defense get tougher against the run?
This can be tricky depending on game flow and how tired the defense is by the fourth quarter in their first game. However, Arkansas was absolutely terrible on defense last year, especially against the run, giving up an average of 222 yards per game. The bar is set so low on this that it’s not unreasonable to expect some improvement in the first game. Can they keep it under that number? How about under 200? Can they at least force passing downs? Basically, Georgia should not be picking up first downs on run plays on 3rd and 8.
Can the coaching staff show better decision making?
Chad Morris’ lack of leadership started with decision making, and one of his biggest mistakes was not running the ball with Rakeem Boyd. This figures to be very difficult against Georgia and game flow will dictate his carries, but if Arkansas has any chance to keep it close, Boyd has to be used in extended periods of the game. This might be an opportunity to get creative and let Burks and Franks also help the run game.
Can they fight?
If all else fails, at least show some pride and fight until the game is over. Many people thought the team quit on Chad Morris last season, so at least show us something if the team is down big in the fourth quarter. Don’t just let Georgia gain 10-15 yards on runs up the middle when everybody knows that’s exactly what they’re going to do. If they can do that, this team is already in a better place than last year.
Alright. Now let’s play some football!