You can hang up if you want, caller, but I suggest you listen good.
Arkansas did two positive things it had not done all year in an otherwise disgusting loss against Georgia inside Quigley Nouveau Stadium.
One, it showed second-half gumption and urgency. A team not built for comebacks got reasonably close to authoring one, a score at a time. The Hogs had to pass and Georgia had to soften the zone to protect the lead, but it almost got too close for comfort for the ‘Dawgs by midway through the fourth quarter. (And speaking of “too close for comfort,” why is Jim J. Bullock not getting more work these days?)
The second thing Arkansas did well might shock you. When Georgia built that 38-6 first-half lead and all appeared hopeless, the Hogs shielded out the boos and ignored the obscene and unhappy throng that started filing toward War Memorial Stadium’s 15-inch-wide, foul-smelling exits.
They adhered to their game plan in the second half in a rather stirring way, with Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins still getting ample running opportunities after the break and Brandon Allen taking some play-action shots and escaping pressure. In other words, even with the necessity to throw and throw often that grew out of a 32-point deficit, Arkansas didn’t look substantially different out there, just a bit more urgent, efficient and oddly quite a bit more confident.
Make no bones about this: The first half was an abject and mystifying descent into Yakety Sax-themed football follies right up there with the 35-point first quarter that Tennessee smacked down on the Hogs in Knoxville back in 2000, or unforgettably awful first halves against two different USC teams (Southern Cal in 2005, South Carolina just last fall). Just a bungling, holy mess. These are the games you regret taking young children to, because the midday hostility starts materializing in the form of a YouTube-worthy tailgating documentary where the cast members begin with swagger and end in a stagger.
And this was the game we should’ve honestly feared, because none of these players have any meaningful connection to War Memorial, much less any desire to pitch a weekend tent there. Far too much was made of a worthless statistic about the SEC West being undefeated against the East; here you had the West’s brave but luckless last-place team taking on the other division’s very obvious power team, so why was there so much favor extended Arkansas’s way?
Georgia exposed Arkansas’s utter lack of depth by deploying a balanced offense and a defense that made Allen’s already-limited checkdown ability nil. He rarely had time to spot guys running unimaginative crossing patterns, and got decked plenty to no great surprise. And by no means did he even play well, his career-best yardage output notwithstanding.
So quick to pounce on Allen after a remarkably consistent and steady run, Hog fans routinely fail to observe that a steady passing game isn’t just predicated on the arms and legs of the maligned junior. Pass protection from this massive, once-unimpeachable offensive line has been sporadic, the wideouts can’t seem to distinguish themselves enough to give Allen confidence throwing to one target over another, and the running backs aren’t getting any shots to flaunt their hyped open-field skills with well-constructed screens. The only time the so-called flat came into play Saturday was when Allen was getting driven into the turf in that region by a blitz off the edge.
Arkansas suffered complete systems failure Saturday, period. Nothing worked right for a very lengthy and painful stretch. The defense looked completely uneasy after Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason surprised the Hogs with two early deep strikes. Punter Sam Irwin-Hill’s most recent boots have been largely hideous since he scooted for that touchdown against Texas A&M — dead legs much? We won’t even utter another word about the placekicking situation until it appears to be correcting itself (so, in other words, hold nary a breath over this).
It was probably all just waiting to happen. There were cracks in the mortar the past two weeks and Saturday the foundation crumbled. But it goes without saying that Georgia did much to create that deficiency — this is a very capable Bulldog team that isn’t getting nearly the respect it warrants after a 6-1 start and back-to-back big-time conference road wins with Todd Gurley being on ice. Nick Chubb is just another grinding Bulldog back who is content to push a pile or curl up over the pigskin after the defense closes in, so long as he gets the chance to escape through a hole and show his speed later. Because the Bulldogs also showed some field-stretching acumen for a change, things were much easier for Georgia than even Mark Richt probably imagined.
At least Arkansas is through the first gauntlet that the schedule offered now.