FAYETTEVILLE — For the second consecutive week these Arkansas Razorbacks hold their end completing a nationally ranked football matchup.
This time, the first time for Arkansas since twice in 2011.
At 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, the nationally No. 8 Razorbacks, 4-0, overall, 1-0 in the SEC West, meet the nationally No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs, 4-0, 2-0 in the SEC East.
Arkansas was unranked when it defeated then No. 15 Texas, 40-21 in this season’s second game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The Razorbacks ranked 16th when second-year coach Sam Pittman’s Hogs beat then nationally No. 7 Texas A&M, 20-10 in last Saturday’s SEC opener at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.
Successful as Arkansas’ 2013-2015 offensive line coach for Bret Bielema became the successful 2016-2019 Georgia offensive line coach for Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart, longtime line coach Pittman came full circle head coaching his first college game last season.
It came against then No. 4 ranked Georgia.
Pittman inherited an Arkansas program that in the SEC went 1-7 in 2017 under Bielema and 0-8 and 0-8 in the SEC under the Chad Morris regime.
Last year’s Arkansas versus Georgia final score was what you would expect: Georgia, 37-10.
But surprisingly Arkansas led 10-5 early in the third quarter and already exhibited a spirited culture change leading into a 3-7 entirely SEC season.
Pittman and his staff built on that like Smart expected.
Smart describes his head coaching ideal as a coach sufficiently humble yet confident to hire assistants with greater specific expertise than himself while inspiring players and staff all believing in what they aspire.
“Sam fits all of that,” Smart said. “He’s a tremendous leader of men. Those men in that locker room believe in Sam Pittman and what he tells them. They believe it and go out and play like it.”
Pittman certainly returns the favor praising Smart and his Bulldogs, ranked No. 2 nationally primarily because their defense ranks No. 1 in fewest points and fewest total offense yards allowed.
“Kirby, I obviously had a lot of good memories about him and the way he treated me and the staff,” Pittman said. “They’ve got an outstanding football team. Very physical. You don’t find many teams that are playing extremely hard that don’t have high respect for the head coach. And they do.”
The Bulldogs are talent full of 5-stars, especially on defense.
Look at the scores. Georgia beat since 2015 annual College Playoff qualifier and two-time national champion Clemson, 10-3, routed respected Alabama-Birmingham 56-7, and thumped SEC East members South Carolina, 40-13 and Vanderbilt, 62-0.
Georgia didn’t show a single defensive weakness against any, Pittman said.
“You’re trying to find one, and there’s not a weakness,” Pittman said. “There’s not a guy that you’re going, We’re going to pick on this guy. So what you do is ‘You know what, let’s do what we do best.’”
What Arkansas does best offensively is very good, Smart said. Smarts cites a physically pounding running game augmented by running quarterback KJ Jefferson connecting for deep passes with receivers Treylon Burks of Warren (19 catches for 373 yards and two touchdowns) and Helena native/Fayetteville High grad Tyson Morris, (seven catches, for 169 yards and two touchdowns.)
Smart claims, and remember Georgia’s season started with then nationally No. 3 Clemson, that Georgia’s defense thus hasn’t faced an offense this potent.
“We’re going to play better people than we’ve played,” Smart said. “Because we’re facing a really good team and a really good offense Saturday.”
And a Barry Odom-coordinated Arkansas defense thwarting the respected offenses of Texas and Texas A&M.
It’s a better, deeper defense allowing Odom to do better with multiple schemes, Smart said.
“He forces your hand to maybe play left-handed,” Smart said. “You can’t do some of the things you want to do. He’s really good at it. Not only that, he has some really good players doing it. Make no mistake about it, this is not the Arkansas that we played last year.”
On the Georgia offensive coin, freshman tight end Brock Bowers, 18 catches for 272 yards and four touchdowns already rates among the league’s best tight ends as Georgia’s leading receiver.
Georgia running backs Zamir White and James Cook each average 5.6 per carry.
Quarterbacks JT Daniels and Stetson Bennett combine to complete 76 of 101 passes with 11 touchdowns versus four interceptions.
Daniels has been dogged by injuries. But off the bench Bennett beat Arkansas last year with Daniels out injured and D’Wan Mathis, since transferred to Temple, struggling as the starter.
Jefferson and Burks both closed last week’s Texas A&M game with injuries but have practiced this week.