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Five things to know ahead of Arkansas-Georgia

The No. 8 Razorbacks visit the No. 2 Bulldogs for one of the most anticipated games of the season.
Credit: AP
Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman instructs his team during an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A new week, a new biggest game of the season for Arkansas.

As the Razorbacks keep winning, it seems like each game takes on more importance. Last week's tilt against Texas A&M was the biggest game to that point, with the Hogs taking down the Aggies 20-10 in Arlington.

Now, the Razorbacks travel to Athens for a top-10 showdown against the 2nd ranked team in the country, the Georgia Bulldogs.

Here's five things to know before the Hogs and Dawgs meet between the hedges at Sanford Stadium.

1. Setting the Scene

Not many people had this circled as a top-10 meeting before the season, but here we are.

For the Hogs, they're in the top-10 for the first time since 2012, sitting at No. 8 after their win last week over Texas A&M. It was a massive leap for Arkansas, a jump of eight spots after going into Arlington as the 16th ranked team in the country.

Meanwhile in Athens, the Bulldogs have been a top-5 team all season. They began the year at No. 3, but moved to No. 2 after defeating Clemson to open the season, and have remained there ever since. 

Both teams are 4-0 and unbeaten in conference play, with Georgia most recently coming off pummelling SEC East-foe Vanderbilt 62-0 last week in Nashville. 

The Bulldogs hold the all-time lead in the series 11-4, winning the latest meeting last year in Fayetteville 37-10. However, the Hogs won the last time the two teams played in Athens, in a 31-24 win back in 2010.

The only time the two teams have met as top-10 teams was in the very first matchup, back in the 1969 Sugar Bowl when No. 9 Arkansas, led by Frank Broyles, beat No. 2 Georgia 16-2 in New Orleans.

2. Back to the Old Stomping Grounds

Credit: AP
Georgia coach Kirby Smart talks with Arkansas coach Sam Pittman before the start of an NCAA college football game in Fayetteville, Ark. Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

Sam Pittman is quite familiar with Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs. 

When Smart took the head coaching job in Athens in 2016, he poached Pittman from Arkansas to be the Bulldogs' offensive line coach. The time that Pittman spent in Athens included a run to the College Football Playoff title game in the 2017 season. 

Pittman coached on Smart's staff for four seasons before taking the head coach job at Arkansas before last season. Pittman brought with him a few guys from Georgia, including Scott Fountain (special teams coordinator) and Jamil Walker (head strength coach).

Now, Pittman returns to Athens for the first time as a head coach, hoping for the biggest win in his tenure at Arkansas.

3. Hogs in the Underdog Role

Arkansas is in the role it has relished so far this season: the underdog.

The Hogs have been underdogs of at least five points in the two games they've played against Power 5 opponents so far: +6.5 against Texas, +5 against Texas A&M.

Sam Pittman's teams won those two games by a combined 29 points.

However, the task this week is the toughest one of the season, and the oddsmakers in Vegas view it that way as well. 

Georgia enters Saturday's contest as 18.5 favorites, a large spread considering the undefeated record and top-10 status that both teams possess.

Part of the reason the Dawgs are such favorites is how they've looked so far this season. 

Georgia dominated its 10-3 victory over Clemson in Charlotte in Week 1.

Since then, the Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 158-23. That includes last week's blowout of Vanderbilt, as well as a 56-7 win over UAB and a 40-13 win against South Carolina.

4. Dawgs Offense vs. Hogs Defense

While KJ Jefferson left the game last week against the Aggies, it's the Bulldogs who have uncertainty at QB due injury this week.

JT Daniels played last week against Vanderbilt, but is dealing with what Kirby Smart called a "lat issue" this week. Daniels already missed one game this season, against UAB, due to an oblique strain.

Whether its Daniels or Stetson Bennett at QB for the Dawgs, Georgia possesses a potent offense. It ranks 12th in FBS in scoring at 42 points per game. 

The Bulldogs offense is good at moving the chains as well. It ranks ninth in FBS in 3rd down conversions at 53.8 %, with Daniels especially good on 3rd down (16-for-18, 152 yards, 2 TDs, INT).

The Georgia offensive line has done a good job protecting whoever has been at QB, only allowing half a sack all season. Their job in the run game has been more mediocre, as the Bulldogs sit in the middle of the SEC with 177 rush yards per game.

Interestingly, Georgia's strengths on offense figure to match up with Arkansas' strength on defense.

While the Dawgs have been able to extend drives, the Hogs have been able to end them. The best 3rd down defense in the SEC resides in Fayetteville, limiting teams to only converting 27.9% of 3rd downs. 

Georgia has moved the ball more through the air than through the ground this season, but Arkansas has top-10 pass defense as well. It's allowing only 144 yards per game through the air, eighth best in FBS.

And as we saw last week against Texas A&M, no matter how good Georgia's offensive line is, the trio of John Ridgeway, Tre Williams and Markell Utsey will be the best defensive front they will have seen since the Clemson game. 

5. Hogs Offense vs. Dawgs Defense

Here is where the game figures to be won or lost. The question is quite simple: can Arkansas move the ball on Georgia at all, whether through the air or on the ground?

It's something that no one has been able to do against the Dawgs so far. Georgia brings the country's top-ranked defense into this meeting in a few categories: scoring defense (5.8 ppg), total defense (181.8 ypg allowed), pass effiency defense (73.5).

Basically, Georgia's defense is really good. It's a unit that's anchored by its strength up front, led by All-American Jordan Davis and fifth-year senior Devonte Wyatt.

But Arkansas went up against another elite defense and defensive line last week, and moved the ball with some ease at least in the first half.

Four of the Razorbacks' first five drives against the Aggies went for at least 56 yards, and the Hogs showed big play ability big hitting on touchdowns of 85 yards to Treylon Burks and 48 yards to AJ Green.

The Hogs will hope Jefferson is at full health. A healthy QB1 allows Arkansas to continue looking for chunk gains, as Jefferson leads FBS in yards per completion (18.3). It also allows Jefferson to make plays with his legs, something that will be vital against Georgia's fierce pass rush and front seven.

Similar to when the Hogs are on defense, when they're on offense it will still be strength vs. strength.

Arkansas has made good use of the rushing game, running for 261 yards per game (8th in FBS). Trelon Smith was again the leading rusher for the Hogs last week, totalling 82 yards on 17 carries. 

The issue for the Hogs is that Georgia boasts the top rush defense in the SEC, limiting teams to just 66 yards on the ground. 

Now, the Dawgs haven't faced an offense that uses its quarterback in the run game the way Arkansas does, and the Razorbacks have one of the best offensive lines in the SEC. Being able to use Jefferson's big body in the rushing attack could be a key factor for the Hogs having more success on the ground than any other team that's played against Georgia so far.

Kick off from Athens is at 11 am CT on ESPN. 

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