Arkansas faces tough test against Ge­or­gia’s de­fense

El Dorado News-Times - - Sports - By Tom Mur­phy Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette

FAYET­TEVILLE — If you were draw­ing up the per­fect Game One op­po­nent for the new Ken­dal Briles of­fense at the Univer­sity of Arkansas to break in against with a lit­tle wig­gle room for er­ror, well, the one the Ra­zor­backs will see on Satur­day isn't it.

In fact, it's prob­a­bly as far re­moved from that as pos­si­ble.

The de­fense for No. 4 Ge­or­gia is a mon­ster.

New quar­ter­back Feleipe Franks, ace tail­back Ra­keem Boyd and the Ra­zor­back of­fense will test Briles' schemes against what projects as one of the best de­fenses in the coun­try on Satur­day at 3 p.m. at Reynolds Ra­zor­back Sta­dium.

The Bull­dogs led the FBS in rush­ing de­fense and scor­ing de­fense last sea­son, al­low­ing 74.6 rush­ing yards per game, 2.6 yards per carry and 12.6 points per game.

From that unit, 17 play­ers who have started at some point or were mean­ing­ful con­trib­u­tors in 2019 are back.

A re­porter said he'd read some­where that Ge­or­gia might have the best de­fense in the coun­try in 2020 when ask­ing coach Sam Pittman about the Bull­dogs this week.

“My thought would be who­ever said they were, they're cor­rect,” Pittman said.

“They're big. They're phys­i­cal. They're well-coached. They run to the foot­ball, and they're very phys­i­cal when they get to the foot­ball. Any big plays ex­cites their de­fense even more, so neg­a­tive plays, in­ter­cep­tions, any­thing of that na­ture … we're cer­tainly go­ing to try to stay away from that.”

The Bull­dogs' de­fense, co­or­di­nated by Dan Lan­ning with de­fen­sive guru head coach Kirby Smart over­see­ing the works, gave up 20 touch­downs last sea­son, four in the 37-10 loss to LSU in the SEC cham­pi­onship game. The Bull­dogs gave up two rush­ing touch­downs all sea­son, both on quar­ter­back runs.

Franks faced the Bull­dogs twice dur­ing his years at Florida — fall­ing 42-7 as a fresh­man backup in 2017 and los­ing 36-17 as a starter and team cap­tain in 2018 — so he's fa­mil­iar with the ath­letes and schemes Ge­or­gia presents.

“The last cou­ple of times I've played them, Kirby and all them al­ways does a great job,” Franks said. “Those guys are tough, phys­i­cal, any­thing that you would imag­ine an SEC team to be.

“Those guys, they have re­ally good play­ers. But we have good play­ers as well. It's gonna be a hard-fought bat­tle. We just need to be out there and be able to ex­e­cute our game plan and what we've in­stalled [to] go out there and be suc­cess­ful.”

On the front, 330-pound nose guard Jor­dan Davis is the an­chor, with vet­eran ends Ma­lik Herring and Devonte Wy­att flank­ing him. The trio av­er­ages 303 pounds.

Inside lineback­ers Monty Rice and Nakobe Dean are the nerve cen­ters and the heart of the unit, while vet­eran like safety Richard LeCounte and cor­ner­back Eric Stokes lead the sec­ondary while rank­ing among the best at their po­si­tions in the coun­try.

“They are de­fen­sively sound,” said Boyd, a 1,133yard rusher last sea­son who av­er­aged a healthy 6.2 yards per carry. “We're go­ing to have to come with it. We've

been prac­tic­ing hard.

“We know what’s at stake. We know how hard we’ve got to play go­ing up against Ge­or­gia.”

Franks was asked if get­ting the ball out quickly to pre-set reads would help keep the ag­gres­sive Bull­dogs on their heels.

“I don’t think our whole game plan has to do with get­ting the ball out quick and pre-con­ceived reads,” Franks said. “I think we’ve got a bunch of dif­fer­ent mixes inside the game plan. And … that will be an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity for me to get out there and get out­side of the pic­ture of prac­tice and see what they can do in a game, when it’s real live con­tact.

“They have a good scheme and that’s why it’s suc­cess­ful year in and year out. At the same time, Coach Briles has us and we have a good scheme as well. So I’ll be ex­cited to go out there and watch what we can all do and ex­e­cute our game plan.”

Smart was com­pli­men­tary of what he sees from Arkansas on Wed­nes­day’s SEC tele­con­fer­ence.

“Ra­keem Boyd is as good as there is in the SEC,” Smart said. “This guy has proven that he’s a re­ally good run­ner, a phys­i­cal run­ner. Tal­ented, smart, sees the field, and any of­fen­sive line coached by a head coach like Sam Pittman is gonna be a great of­fen­sive line unit.

“As far as Coach Briles, I’ve al­ways had re­spect and watched ev­ery­where he’s been. As an of­fen­sive-minded coach he cre­ates a lot of is­sues. It’s like con­stant pres­sure be­cause there’s never a breather.

“They talk about it be­ing warp speed. But it’s that con­stant pres­sure of, num­ber one, balls be­ing ver­ti­cal down the field, the spac­ing of the field, mak­ing you play the full 53 yards and the tempo with which they do it. It’s tough to de­fend, es­pe­cially when you talk to other peo­ple who have had to de­fend it.”

Ge­or­gia out­side line­backer Jer­maine John­son said he ex­pects the Ra­zor­backs to try to op­er­ate fast.

“He likes to move fast, fast tempo with the of­fense,” John­son said. “I be­lieve Coach Smart has had us out there run­ning fast to be ready for that.”

One thing Ge­or­gia has got­ten adept at do­ing is match­ing sub­sti­tu­tions, so if the Ra­zor­backs swap of­fen­sive per­son­nel from one play to the next, the Bull­dogs will slow the game by coun­ter­ing with de­fen­sive subs while the of­fi­cials hold up the snap.

Pittman said the of­fense has harped on re­ceivers sep­a­rat­ing from man cov­er­age and get­ting on the same wave­length with Franks dur­ing pre­sea­son prac­tice.

“I think it’s grow­ing,” Pittman said Wed­nes­day. “I think he has more con­fi­dence in his wide­outs that they’re go­ing to run the proper depth, make the break at the proper time. He’s throw­ing the ball very well right now.”

The Ra­zor­backs had mul­ti­ple turnovers in their sec­ond scrim­mage, so ball se­cu­rity has been a fo­cus in the weeks since then.

Franks said he and the re­ceivers have tried to do a rush job on es­tab­lish­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion needed to ex­e­cute against a first-rate de­fense like Ge­or­gia’s.

“You know it’s been a tran­si­tion from when we started, be­cause we didn’t have spring ball,” he said. “But when we started up un­til now, it’s night and day. These guys, it’s a tes­ta­ment to them, be­cause they’ve been able to get a whole new of­fense in the short time pe­riod that they have and to just con­tin­u­ously work on it and work on their craft day in and day out.”

The Ra­zor­backs were the No. 85 rush­ing of­fense with 147.2 yards per game last sea­son, and the No. 111 to­tal of­fense with 340 yards per game.

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