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Arkansas 31, Georgia 24: What Have We Learned, Class?

Post-mortem on a heartbreaking loss to the Razorbacks in front of the home crowd.

1. We all got waaaayyy too excited about the offensive line. With five veteran starters returning, Georgia's O-line was rated best in the country in the preseason by Phil Steele and was supposed to be the linchpin of an efficient offense that gave Aaron Murray plenty of time to settle into the QB role. Saturday afternoon, though, the only thing Murray was settling into was the Sanford Stadium turf -- the Razorbacks sacked him six times, to go with three sacks suffered against South Carolina the previous week. Granted, Murray held the ball way too long on more than one occasion, but that still doesn't account for how an Arkansas defensive front pegged as no better than average in the preseason was able to pressure him so consistently. (Of course, Washaun Ealey's utterly ineffective pass-blocking, too, had something to do with it.) The run-blocking was better, with Ealey and Carlton Thomas combining to average 4.9 yards per carry, but not enough to compensate for a passing game that was being put in terrible situations all afternoon long. Last year's O-line started slow, too, and they did have their share of injuries and illnesses to contend with over the summer -- but until they get better, expectations for the Dawg offense may have to be dramatically dialed down.

2. The defense continues to be a work in progress. To put it lightly. They were able to render the Razorback running game a non-factor -- which, after getting pulverized by South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore in Week 2, had to come as something of a relief -- but the ground game has never been much of a priority for Bobby Petrino to begin with. The bread and butter of the Hog offense is, of course, Ryan Mallett. And while Mallett didn't have quite the awe-inspiring stat line he put together when the Dawgs and Hogs met in Fayetteville last season, Georgia wasn't able to cause any appreciable disruption in his game, in terms of either coverage in the secondary or pressure up front. It wasn't reasonable to think that the defense would shut down Mallett entirely, "new attitude" or not, but what we saw Saturday afternoon was a defense still struggling to figure out its roles and stand up to one of the best passing attacks in the nation.

3. When Mike Bobo said earlier in the week that he "[didn't] really know" how the Dawgs would open it up with Aaron Murray, he wasn't kidding. Bobo surprised (and confounded) more than a few Dawg fans on Wednesday with that quote, which seemed to run counter to Mark Richt's vow in the wake of the South Carolina loss that they'd open up the passing game and stop handling their young QB with kid gloves. After a first half in which Murray threw only six passes against Arkansas, it looked like Bobo's indecision was winning out over Richt's professed desire to open it up. Granted, that number was decreased to some extent by Arkansas' QB pressure, which sacked Murray twice in the first half and forced him to take off running on numerous other occasions. But when a tight end corps as deep as Georgia's only gets one reception all day long -- particularly with the need for dump-off options for Murray becoming glaringly apparenty by halftime -- the criticism currently pouring down on Bobo seems warranted.

Case in point: Georgia's penultimate offensive play of the day, when they'd made it to midfield with a little over a minute left and had all the momentum on their side after a 14-point comeback in the fourth quarter. All they needed was another couple first downs to put Blair Walsh in position to kick the game-winning field goal, but even on an easily makeable Third and 4, the play call left Murray without any short-yardage options and he ended up suffering a drive-killing sack at the hands of Arkansas DL Jake Bequette. You can't blame Bobo for drawing up a game plan for 2010 based on assumptions that a) the offensive line would be a brick wall, b) he'd have both Ealey and Caleb King to work with from the get-go, and c) that A.J. Green would be an easy safety valve for his young QB, but . . . well, if that's what he did, then it's clearly time for him to go back to the drawing board and adapt to some less-than-ideal circumstances.

Overall impressions: First and foremost, the Dawgs deserve a lot of credit for powering back from their 24-10 fourth-quarter deficit, the kind of comeback we haven't seen from this team in a while. But you can't give them credit for that without also wondering how they ended up trailing by two touchdowns to begin with. Where was the "opened-up" passing game we were promised after Murray looked so poised against South Carolina? How come Murray -- a mobile target with a veteran line in front of him -- got sacked six times, while the Dawgs' defensive front only sacked Ryan Mallett once?

Clearly, the Dawgs' early-season personnel issues have disrupted the team's offensive game plan considerably. As good as Kris Durham and Tavarres King have been, A.J. Green might have provided the extra dimension that would've gotten Georgia over the hump against Arkansas. The offensive line has been a massive disappointment, and not having Caleb King's legs or pass-blocking ability has only made matter worse. (Same goes for fullback Shaun Chapas, who was out with an injury Saturday.) You can chalk all that up to bad luck (and an ill-advised decision to sell a jersey), but whatever the case may be, it's something that the coaching staff needs to adapt to in a hurry. In particular, they need to find a golden mean for Murray somewhere between "do absolutely nothing" and "carry the entire team on your back and save the game."

The season's far from over, but even the sunniest Dawg fan would have to admit that 0-2 in the SEC is a fairly deep hole to be climbing out of, not to mention highly unfamiliar territory for the Bulldogs. The consolation, of course, is that South Carolina and Arkansas both appear to be terrific teams there's little shame in losing to, but that still doesn't mean that wins over Mississippi State and Colorado (both on the road) can be taken for granted in the next two weeks. It's time for some heavy soul-searching and identity-defining on the coaching staff to begin in earnest, and we won't know how that's all worked out until this weekend in Starkville.

Player of the game: After a fairly lackluster performance in Columbia, the receiving corps picked itself up off the mat and did a borderline-heroic job of stepping up in the continued absence of A.J. Green against Arkansas. Though he wasn't the team's leading receiver, Tavarres King's four catches for 91 yards were darn impressive, and the last of those catches -- the 10-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that sparked Georgia's late comeback attempt -- showed the kind of heart and determination you'd bottle up and deliver intravenously to every single player on your squad if you could. Hopefully this portends a big leap forward in the passing game as a whole when A.J. finally comes back in two weeks to add his spark.

Stat of the game: 2 -- the number of receptions by a non-WR on Saturday. (Fullback Fred Munzenmaier had a seven-yard catch on Georgia's first offensive series, and tight end Aron White had a nine-yarder that earned a First and goal for the Dawgs on their tying touchdown drive.) If the O-line isn't going to be able to protect Murray any better than they did Saturday, the coaches are going to have to open up the playbook and give him more opportunities over the middle in the short passing game, and with as many talented options at FB and TE as the Dawgs have, two passes just aren't going to cut it.

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