We are now less than two weeks away from the start of fall camp, and six weeks away from Arkansas kicking off the season in Fayetteville against Rice. The sunshine is starting to pump, and the Kool-Aid is getting mixed. Second year Head Coach Sam Pittman faces a difficult schedule, but at this point, is anyone surprised?
The Hogs are much more experienced heading into 2021, with almost the entire starting group returning for one more year under the Head Hog. Arkansas will have a few early tests to start the season, and if they aren’t careful, they might overlook a tricky team prior to playing Texas A&M in Dallas on September 24. With that said, lets dive in for a closer look at Arkansas’ week three opponent, the Georgia Southern Eagles.
Looking at the Eagles
Georgia Southern finished 2020 with a record of 8-5, capped off with a blowout win against Louisiana Tech in the New Orleans Bowl. They lose their starting QB in Shai Werts to Louisville, but the Eagles picked up a solid transfer in James Graham from Georgia Tech to fill that void.
What Arkansas is going up against in week three is a team who is consistently in the top of the Sun Belt. In 2018, they finished 10-3. In 2019, they took a slight dip and finished 7-6. Year after year, they are a difficult team to put away.
What is interesting about Georgia Southern is how they play almost positionless football. Receivers and quarterbacks are somewhat interchangeable, and there are talks that Graham could be joining the receiver room. This leaves freshman Justin Tomlin in line to take over the passing game.
The trickery is what makes this a difficult game for Arkansas. Sure, they are bigger and stronger than the Eagles, but the double reverses and triple option could prove to be a difficult task to keep contained. Barry Odom will need to have his defense sharp and ready to keep the chunk plays at a minimum.
Previewing the Georgia Southern Offense
While many offenses in college football look similar, Georgia Southern is truly in a league of their own. Think of Army or Navy, running their triple option, but in the shotgun. The reason for that is probably because Jeff Monken, the head coach at Army, spent three years as head coach at Georgia Southern from 2010-2013.
As with the triple option offenses, the Eagles will utilize the running game heavily. They finished #5 in the nation, rushing for 371 yards and 27 points per game last season.
With a three-headed monster in the running game, the passing game is more of a complement to the run game than anything else. They threw the ball less than 100 times in 2020, but a lot of those were chunk plays that were made available with the run game bringing the defense close to the line of scrimmage.
As far as receivers go, there has been a bit of roster turnover, with their leading receiver Malik Murray transferring to East Tennessee State. They do bring back their other receivers Khaleb Hood and Emil Smith. Hood snagged 15 receptions for 224 yards playing in the slot, and Smith had four catches for 40 yards. Overall, there is a lack of receiving stats, but most of that is due to the run-heavy nature of this offense.
Arkansas’ defense is going to have their hands full taking care of the run game. The linebackers are going to need to rely heavily on the experienced secondary to keep the passing game at bay. If they can do that, this should be a walk in the park for the Hogs.
Previewing the Georgia Southern Defense
As impressive as the offense is for Georgia Southern, the defense is what won them so many games in 2020. Much like the Razorbacks, their defense was a top team in terms of takeaways last season, and they return nine of their 11 starters in 2021.
The two defensive stars they lost, though, will leave a big hole. Rashad Byrd was a key for their linebackers, amassing a total of 77 tackles in 2020. He also forced a fumble and had two interceptions. Losing him is going to be big for the Eagles. They also lost a key on their defensive line in Raymond Johnson III. He finished 2020 with 38 total tackles, including 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Those are some big shoes to fill on the line for Georgia Southern, but Offensive Line Coach Cody Kennedy will still need to keep his line tough and ready to play. The other guys on that line, including Justin Ellis and CJ Wright, are going to be ferocious when it comes to getting in the backfield.
Where the Eagles shine best is the secondary. They return their leading tackler in Anthony Wilson and Derrick Canteen, who finished with five interceptions in 2020. In order for the passing game to be efficient, Arkansas will also need their run game to thrive. Getting those safeties to bite on the play action will leave Treylon Burks running wild and free.
How I Think The Game Will Play Out
If Arkansas was playing this game in 2019 or 2020, I would pick Georgia Southern all day. They are a tricky bunch, and with the way that Chad Lunsford has his system in place, they have the makings of a team that will probably lead the Sun Belt Conference in 2021. That kind of offensive firepower would overwhelm John Chavis and the regime prior.
It’s 2021, though, and Sam Pittman has instilled a culture of hard work into his team. Barry Odom is one of the smartest defensive minds in college football, and with the added depth on the defensive line, I think the sky is the limit in 2021.
This game will start slow. Look for a 14-3, 10-7 score by the end of the first quarter. Possibly even the half. But eventually the size and strength of the Razorbacks will overtake and exhaust the Eagles.
Final Score: Arkansas wins 42-20
For more Razorbacks Football coverage, follow me on Twitter @DanFairHogs!