Georgia Bulldog fans, settle in for a long, long season if the team is unable to get past the twelfth Arkansas Razorbacks at home Saturday at noon.
It has already been a long year for the Bulldogs after opening SEC play with a loss to division rival South Carolina. The stakes are high again this weekend. While Georgia is rebuilding to a large degree this season expectations were still high because, well, it’s Georgia. Georgia fans are notorious for letting expectations far outpace reality, and this season was no exception. With the team down a game already in the SEC – within its own division – another loss is downright impossible to recover from if a trip to the SEC title game is still in the offing in 2010.
Arkansas is poised to finally be a legitimate player in the SEC. After several seasons of close calls and big time talent at the running back position, Arkansas finally has a balanced offense led by a fringe Heisman candidate in quarterback Ryan Mallet. Though the team has only played two games against far inferior opponents – Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe – the Razorbacks DID win by a combined 75-10. Mallet, through just two games, is already over 1,000 yards passing with 1,101, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. He even has a touchdown toss of 85 yards and has completed passes to ten different receivers.
While it is clear that Mallet is the real deal, it remains to be seen whether his team is or not. Georgia, though the team struggled mightily on offense last week, does have a strong defense full of opportunism and big time playmakers. Mallet is prone to trust his arm, nearly to a fault. But even if Arkansas gets behind, the team has the offense to catch up quickly. On defense Georgia has to play a mistake free game, which is highly unlikely with so many youngsters.
Speaking of mistake free, Georgia likely will not be able to do that on offense either, especially with a red shirt freshman at quarterback. The good news for Georgia is that the offense is last in the SEC in penalty yards with 55. Quarterback Aaron Murray has only thrown on interception through two games this season, and he has only thrown one pass to the other team. But he also does not take enough risks yet to make enough plays. Arkansas will prove a very big test for the youngster, though he is at home. He must prove that he does not make mistakes, of course, but he must also prove that he can make the plays to win a game instead of just avoiding mistakes to prevent a loss.
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino does have more experience with Georgia from his days at Auburn. He understands how to gameplan for Georgia’s style under Mark Richt, and he is a good coach for a road team. Arkansas is favored in this game, and for good reason. After all, the Razorbacks are a better team than the Bulldogs.
But, Georgia has passion and inspiration on its side. While every game between the hedges is the biggest game of the season, this may very well be the biggest game of Mark Richt’s coaching career. Those pesky expectations – the ones that routinely outpace reality – will not give Richt a pass indefinitely. Ever this humble little blog received a hit from the following search query: “fire Mark Richt hire Kirby Smart.” Georgia fans are desperate, and the team must be as well. A win over Arkansas is a must this weekend, buying Mark Richt one more week of sleep. Still, humbling a Heisman Trophy candidate and beating a top 12 team in the nation will do a lot to quiet critics. Losing just is not an option if Richt, and Georgia, are going to survive.