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Georgia-Arkansas Preview: When The Dawgs Have The Ball

After tying the lowest point total the Dawgs have scored under Mark Richt, it's a gross understatement to say that Georgia needs a big offensive game this weekend against Arkansas. Fortunately, Arkansas just happens to be the team that Georgia was able to unload 52 points on early last season. Let's see if there's a similar breakout in store on Saturday.

Against the pass: 248.5 yards allowed per game in 2009 (99th nationally); has allowed a total of only 180 in games against Tennessee Tech and UL-Monroe this season.
Against the run: 152.7 yards per game in 2009 (73rd); allowing an average of 97.5 per game so far this year.

Well, if you so much as skimmed the above statistics, you already know the first reason. Not only were the Hogs dead last in the SEC in total defense last year, they were dead last despite returning every defensive starter but one. They're putting a reasonably experienced unit on the field in 2010, but for obvious reasons, any improvement on the part of the Razorback D is an "I'll believe it when I see it" prospect at best -- lockdown performances against a pair of tomato cans in their first two games notwithstanding.

It helps that Georgia will be at full strength in terms of offensive personnel -- in the running game, at least. This Saturday marks the first time this season that Washaun Ealey and Caleb King will both be ready for action, meaning that the Dawgs stand to make substantial improvement on their lackluster rushing numbers (last in the SEC with only 122.5 yards per game). They'll be going up against a big but inexperienced Razorback front four that will be playing only one guy who started more than three games last year (DE Jake Bequette); the middle of that line will likely consist of two sophomores, Alfred Davis and DeQuinta Jones.

And while the passing game doesn't quite have the established track record that the Ealey/King combo has, Aaron Murray definitely proved his mettle with a valiant performance in Columbia last week, standing tall in the pocket and avoiding momentum-killing mistakes even against a fast, experienced South Carolina secondary. He'll face an Arkansas secondary that should be better this season than it was last, but they've got a long way to go -- even in the midst of what nobody would call a Heisman season, Joe Cox was able to ring up 375 yards and a Georgia-record-tying five TDs on them in Fayetteville last September.

The game of "Will A.J. Play?" is becoming a weekly tradition in Dawg-affiliated circles, but last week we saw a vivid depiction of just how important A.J. Green is to this offense. Granted, the coaches hamstrung themselves to some extent by not taking the restrictor plate off of Murray until the second half, but knowing they wouldn't have to account for Green in the passing game allowed South Carolina's defense to stack the box and solidly corral Washaun Ealey. Arkansas doesn't have quite the same luxury, but they do have quite a bit of speed in the secondary, and the return of Isaac Madison at cornerback will give them a dimension that last year's defense didn't have (Madison, who started 11 games in 2008, missed all of '09 with a torn ACL). Mark Richt, to his credit, has fessed up to being overly conservative with Murray against South Carolina and has indicated they'll open up the playbook for him this weekend, but that shouldn't allow anyone to get overconfident, despite the Razorback pass defense's recent struggles.

Keeping Murray upright is also a priority, which the Georgia offensive line has done a good job of so far -- Murray's jersey stayed clean against Louisiana-Lafayette, and while he did get taken down three times against South Carolina, two of those were coverage sacks that occurred while the Dawgs were going pass-heavy late in the game to try and make up an 11-point deficit. While the Arkansas defensive front got paved by the better ground games it faced last year, it did mount a reasonably effective pass rush, one that should still keep Murray on his toes with Bequette (5.5 sacks last year) coming back. The Hogs also had some success corralling mobile QBs: Tim Tebow and Chris Relf were able to ring up nearly 70 yards apiece on Arkansas, but Jerrod Johnson, Stephen Garcia, Levi Brown, and Jordan Jefferson combined for just 43 yards on 30 carries.

Georgia WR Kris Durham vs. Arkansas CB Ramon Broadway. The Georgia receiving corps needed to step up last week in A.J. Green's absence but didn't get it done, dropping more than a few easy passes and not giving the coaching staff much incentive to put the game in Aaron Murray's hands. The one real bright spot was Durham's 55-yard reception in the third quarter (of a ball that was thrown a little behind him, no less). If Georgia's appeal of Green's NCAA suspension isn't approved in time for the Arkansas game, Durham will likely be called upon to step up again; here's hoping he spends most of his time picking on Broadway. Broadway is the most talkative player on the Razorback defense -- he engaged in some highly ill-advised trash talk leading up to last year's game, and has already spouted off this week about how he hopes A.J. Green is in the game this weekend. But Durham has 20 pounds and a good eight inches on Broadway, and could have a big day if he's called upon to step up again.

(Tomorrow: The Georgia D versus Arkansas' offense. You might have heard that they're kind of good.)

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.