FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Pig Trail Nation) — No. 8 Arkansas and No. 2 Georgia will put their 4-0 records on the line Saturday when the two meet in Athens.
For Georgia, most expected them to be undefeated at this point. Arkansas was the underdog in two of its first four games, but defeated both Texas and Texas A&M. The Longhorns were No. 15 at that time and the Aggies No. 7.
Sam Pittman spent four seasons in Athens under Kirby Smart after leaving Arkansas in 2015. He returned to Arkansas to become head coach after the 2019 season. Pittman knows what type atmosphere his team is walking into on Saturday.
“Well, we’re really looking forward to going and playing Georgia,” Pittman said. “College GameDay’s gonna be there. Our team is very excited about that. I’m excited to get back and see my friends there on the coaching staff. Personally it’ll be very honoring to go back to Georgia and we are very excited. However, we know they have a very outstanding football team.”
Georgia opened the season beating Clemson 10-3 and since then they have blown out South Carolina, UAB and Vanderbilt. They have done it with an outstanding defense and efficient offense.
“Well, they’re an outstanding football team, one,” Pittman said. “Two, they’re able to play a lot of players and develop them because they have been so dominant in the early parts of the game. They’re giving up 185 yards a game on defense. It’s hard to get a first down. When it’s hard to get a first down their offense is out there a lot and able to score a lot of points. Which they’ve scored over 100 points in the last two games. What it tells me is they’ve got the best team in the country. If not the best, they’re certainly 1 or 2, just like they’re rated. We know the task is going to be very difficult because we understand what kind of players they have and what kind of coaching staff they have.”
Georgia was obviously good when Pittman was an assistant there. His offensive line had to go against that potent defense in practice each day.
“Well, they’ve always played extremely hard,” Pittman said. “But it seems like this year they’re playing with so much confidence. They’re running to the ball. That’s a staple of Dan Lanning and Kirby Smart and how Georgia plays. They have just outstanding talent, a very physical and very big defense. And everybody, all 11 of them can really, really run. I think the most important factor is they’re playing so well together. They’re playing so good on team defense. I mean the stats don’t lie. They’re kicking a lot of butt right now.”
Pittman was asked what kind of scheme Kendal Briles can come up with to attack the Georgia defense?
“Well, I’ll know a little bit more about that in about three hours after the game starts,” Pittman said. “We’ve got a plan of how to try to get it done. You know, there’s not a weakness. You’re trying to find one, and there’s not a weakness. So the bottom line, only way I know how to do it, is tape up, strap up and go out there and do what we do best and see if it works. Because there’s not a guy that you’re going, ‘You know what, we’re going to pick on this guy. We’re going to try to roll and try to plug this zone because they don’t have speed to cover it.’ There’s not any of those things, and so what you do is you go back and go,’You know what, let’s do what we do best. Let’s don’t change a whole lot of things. Let’s do what we do best and see if it’ll work against probably the best defense in the country.”
On the other side of the football, Arkansas’ defense will have to deal with Georgia tight end Brock Bowers who has caught 18 passes for 272 yards and four touchdowns. Pittman knows Barry Odom will be very aware of where Bowers is lined up on Saturday.
“Anytime that you use a young freshman as much as Georgia uses Bowers, you know they have unbelievable confidence in him,” Pittman said. “He’s certainly earned that respect from their coaching staff with how much they use him because they use him in a lot of different ways. I just think he’s a really quality football player, a really good football player. And Georgia’s got outstanding coaches and they know how to get the ball to their good players. It says a lot about the young man because he certainly is playing well.”
And it’s not just slowing Bowers on offense, but the entire weapons the Bulldogs will throw at Odom’s defense.
“Hopefully we have a game plan that’ll do that,” Pittman said. “We have to play hard. We have to be us. We can’t give up any type of big plays on them. That stadium will go crazy you know. We have to make them earn everything. To be honest with you, I told the team yesterday we have to be the best tacklers that we’ve been all year. We have to be able to get these big backs on the ground. We’re going to be in some one-on-one situations and we’ve got to get them on the ground. Offensively we have to break tackles. Even if we block them all up, there’s going to be somebody close to that ball carrier or that receiver. We have to break tackles. If we do that we’ll have a chance.”
Texas A&M presented a great defense last week that was limiting opponents. Pittman was asked how the A&M and Georgia defenses compare?
“Well, the similarities are they’re both really big and they both run to the ball,” Pittman said. “They both play really hard. You know I don’t know what the difference would be. I obviously know the kids at Georgia better than I did the ones at A&M. I’d say Georgia has a tremendous amount of depth, so they can just roll players and roll players. A&M had good depth as well, but I think Georgia just has more depth there. And they’re a little scarier because I’m familiar with what they’re going to do to us and what we have to do to stop them.”
Georgia’s Lanning, who is the defensive coordinator, has a huge blitz package he uses in games. Pittman knows that is another thing the Hogs have to be prepared for on offense.
“Well that’s the problem,” Pittman said. “He knows I know and he’s going to give me a different look than what he’s given somebody else. Instead of coming from one side, it’s going to be the other side. So yeah, he knows. He knows Coach (Cody) Kennedy was there, I was there. He knows we know what Georgia does. He might just say, ‘This is what we do. Try to block us.’ That’s the beauty of college coaching or any coaching, is trying to out-wit the other guy and just make sure you don’t screw your own team up by giving each other too much credit.”
Considering they lost several players from their defense last season any surprise they are this good again?
“No, not at all,” Pittman said. “I think they’ve been one or two in the nation in recruiting for a long time. I know they’ve been Top 5 for a long time. They know how to get it done in recruiting. Kirby understands it’s a line of scrimmage league. That’s really, they have so many good players, but they’re really good on the defensive and offensive line and that’s where it starts.”
One weapon Arkansas and Briles will throw at Georgia is running back Trelon Smith. The speedy back talked about what he has seen from Georgia on tape.
“Georgia’s defense, it kind of reminds me of our defense,” Smith said. “They run to the ball, they hit, they’ve got a lot of size up front. That’s where practice comes in, starting yesterday we went out there and planned on executing. We’ve got to execute on all cylinders. The O-line has got to be physical, real physical this week. We’ve got to have a run game. We’ve got to create a run game, we’ve got to get that going. We’ve got to get first downs. We know what Georgia’s defense looks like, we know what they bring to the table. We’re just preparing for them.”
Senior defensive end Tre Williams was outstanding against Texas A&M last week. He knows Georgia will throw a big offensive line at the Hogs this week.
“Me going in and getting the scouting report, 69 (Jamaree Salyer), his size is 325,” Williams said. “I know for a fact that he’s a good player, he’s an 83% pass setting. So he’s a good guy to go against. But I know for a fact that going into preparation this week, I’ve got to be on cue. I’ve got to know my assignment, as well as pay attention to my keys in order to enjoy this outcome of the game.”
For Smith this will be his first time to play at Georgia. He is excited to see a Top 10 matchup and Arkansas involved.
“Me, personally, I’m very excited,” Smith said. “I’ve never been to Georgia, so this will be my first trip down into Georgia. From what I’m hearing, I know it’s going to be a heck of an environment. There’s going to be a lot of people. They say, over 100,000 people.
“They’re undefeated and ranked No. 2, so the opportunity is definitely there for us to showcase what we can do and beat them. If you ask me, I’m just excited as well. I can’t wait to go out there and just have fun.”
When Williams played for Missouri they faced Georgia in Athens. So he was able to share with his current teammates what to expect.
“For my teammates that haven’t seen an environment like that, I’d just say, ‘Soak in the moment. Live in the moment,'” Williams said. “Because it’s going to be a heck of an environment, so live in the moment. Being on the field, you might not be able to hear, so focus on your keys, look to the sideline, get the play, execute, go hard. Just do what you’re supposed to do. Do your job, and we’ll come out with something nice.”
Arkansas and Georgia will kickoff at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN.