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Georgia-Arkansas Preview: When The Razorbacks Have The Ball

You may have heard that Georgia's defense had some problems against South Carolina last weekend. You may have also heard that Arkansas packs one of the most potent offensive punches in the entire country, much less the SEC. Can the Dawgs get up off the mat in time to corral them?

ARKANSAS' OFFENSE, BY THE NUMBERS
Passing: 295.5 yards per game in 2009 (10th nationally); averaging 361.5 in games against Tennessee Tech and UL-Monroe this season, fifth in the nation.
Rushing: 131.8 yards per game in 2009 (81st); averaging 147.5 per game so far this season, 74th in the country.

REASONS TO BE EXCITED
OK, yes, Ryan Mallett is a beast of a quarterback. He was the seventh most efficient passer in the country last year and is on the same kind of pace this year, and will be on pretty much everyone's Heisman shortlist until he really, really tanks one. But here's the thing: Mallett did tank more than a few on the road last season. Inside the state of Arkansas, Mallett completed 157 of 232 passes for 2,557 yards, 25 touchdowns, and only five picks; outside Arkansas, though, he was just 68-of-171 for 1,067 yards and a 5/2 TD/INT ratio. QB rating at home, 191.5; on the road, 99.5. With Mallett arguably the least mobile of the quarterbacks Georgia has faced so far this season, Georgia linebacker Justin Houston -- the unequivocal star of the defense last week with three sacks on Stephen Garcia -- could have a big game and key the effort to goad Mallett into another subpar performance.

If Mallett has a bad game, it's unlikely that the rest of the offense picks up the slack, because the running game, to put it politely, doesn't seem to have been much of a priority for Bobby Petrino in his time at Arkansas. The Razorback RBs have a veteran offensive line to run behind, but their depth took a big hit when junior Dennis Johnson was taken out of the lineup with a very unpleasant-sounding "bowel injury" last week. Of the other three tailbacks the Hogs have at their disposal, Knile Davis and Ronnie Wingo have looked impressive so far this season, but neither have received more than a handful of carries in each game. The most experienced of the three, junior Broderick Green, has only averaged 3.2 yards per carry -- not a particularly impressive stat when your first two opponents were Tennessee Tech and UL-Monroe.

On special teams, the Hogs were solid in the kick- and punt-return game, but the kickers and punters themselves left something to be desired. Punter Dylan Breeding averaged fewer than 40 yards a kick on the season, and placekicker Alex Tejada 7-of-13 on field goals longer than 30 yards.

REASONS TO WORRY
His home/road stat splits aside, there's no denying that Ryan Mallett is really, really good. He set a school record scorching the Bulldogs for 408 yards and five TDs in Fayetteville a year ago, and all of the receivers who caught touchdown passes in that game are back this year; that includes their top three wideouts from 2009 (Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams), all of whom had at least 500 yards and 5 TDs on the season. Georgia's secondary has shown some improvement relative to a string of lackluster efforts that brought an end to the Willie Martinez era in Athens, but they've also let a couple big passes get by them despite facing a pair of relatively lo-cal passing games in their first two outings. Even an improved unit may struggle just to contain the Razorback passing attack if the front seven can't get consistent pressure, as "shutting down" just doesn't look like a likely option.

Getting that kind of pressure won't be a cakewalk, either -- last year's Hog O-line was only so-so in pass protection, finishing eighth in the SEC in sacks allowed, but appears to have improved in 2010, with four returning starters having given up only three sacks in two games thus far. Mallett may not be a mobile target, but at 6'7", 238, he's definitely an imposing one; between tight end D.J. Williams and a wealth of usable pass-catchers in the backfield, Mallett will have plenty of short dump-off options if the pocket collapses, so Justin Houston and the Georgia pass rush will have to get to him early.

And don't just assume that Petrino's going to ignore the ground game, either. While the run is highly unlikely to be the centerpiece of his offensive game plan, he no doubt saw plenty that he liked as he watched film of South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore leaving cleat prints on the Georgia front seven for three solid hours. DeAngelo Tyson, who played the entire game at nose tackle, didn't make much of a dent in the Gamecock offensive front, which was a big part of why Lattimore was able to run so well, but there don't appear to be many other options for the Dawgs at that position, with Justin Anderson deemed "doubtful" for this weekend's game due to turf toe. A greater emphasis on contact in this week's practices should result in a more aggressive defensive effort from the Dawgs on Saturday, but it's clear from the Carolina game that they've got a ways to go.

MATCHUP TO WATCH
Georgia FS Bacarri Rambo vs. Arkansas WR Greg Childs. Rambo was a fan favorite off the bench last season, and not just because he has an awesome name: He sparked an otherwise subpar Georgia secondary with big plays like the game-saving hit in the waning minutes against Auburn that put him in the hospital with a concussion. Yet he's looked suspiciously gun-shy at times this season (partly because of that big hit against the Tigers, perhaps), to the point where he publicly berated himself for a lack of effort against South Carolina earlier this week. Against arguably the most imposing passing attack the Dawgs will face all year, this unit needs a leader, and Rambo will have to step up big again. His primary target will be Childs, the biggest receiver on Arkansas' roster and also their most productive in terms of yards and TDs in 2009.

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