FAYETTEVILLE – Asked on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference what makes Georgia’s defense so good, Georgia Coach Kirby Smart implied nothing – yet.
““Well, I don’t know that we’ve been tested this year,” Smart replied. “So, saying that we’re so good, I think that’s still up for debate. We have to go out and actually play well, and this defense has not done that yet.”
That was last year that Smart’s Bulldogs led the nation in scoring defense yielding but 12.6 points.
This postponed and revised by the coronavirus SEC football year starts with new Arkansas Coach former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks hosting nationally No. 4 Georgia at 3 p.m. Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium on the SEC Network.
It is a new year but the Bulldogs do return six defenders named to the SEC Coaches first through third All-SEC teams including all three linebackers on either the second or third team and defensive tackle Jordan Davis and defensive back Richard LeCounte on first team.
Pittman, Georgia’s offensive line coach for Smart from 2016-2019 after coaching Arkansas’ offensive line from 2013-2015 for Bret Bielema, calls Georgia’s defense the nation’s best led throughout by Davis up front, linebacker Monty Rice and LeCounte.
The Bulldogs won the SEC East and went 12-2 last year and 13-2 in 2017 and 11-3 in 2018.
So Smart would seem to have trouble hyping an Arkansas team hiring Pittman after Bielema was fired following a 4-8 overall, 1-7 SEC 2017 and Chad Morris canned with the Hogs, consecutively 2-10, 2-10 overall and 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC.
However Smart can extol Arkansas senior running back Rakeem Boyd, a 1,133-yard rusher last year and on the Coaches All-SEC second team, the lone Razorback selected Preseason All-SEC.
“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. What they were able to do (at Georgia) in a really tough run league, our league last year was as tough against the run as there is, and he put up really good numbers. He does a great job with that.”
Arkansas does arrive with a pregame quarterback advantage.
Razorbacks starter Feleipe Franks is new to Arkansas as a graduate transfer but he’s old hand in the SEC as the former Florida Gators starting quarterback until losing the remainder of the 2019 season with a third-game broken ankle enabling 2020 Preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback Kyle Trask permanently seizing the Gators’ starting job.
Franks has so impacted at Arkansas that his new teammates voted him a team captain.
He did struggle with ball security in Arkansas’ second and final preseason scrimmage but has done what he could to alleviate that in the practices since and improve his timing with his receivers, Pittman said.
“I think it’s growing,” Pittman said. “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. Ball security wise we certainly haven’t had another scrimmage since Scrimmage Two, but we have thudded pretty good in practice. We’ve also done some live tackling in individual drills. Hopefully we’ll be fine with that on Saturday.”
Georgia lost 2019 starting quarterback Jake Fromm declaring for the 2020 NFL draft followed by Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman opting out through the 2020 coronavirus uncertainty to concentrate on the 2021 NFL draft.
Another graduate transfer, JT Daniel via the University of Southern California, has practiced on a non-contact but remains to be medically cleared from his USC knee injury for Saturday’s game.
“Hopefully he’s able to clear here in the next couple of days,” Smart said. “It’s one of those things that’s really beyond our control right now.”
D’Wan Mathis, redshirted as a freshman last year because of emergency brain surgery to remove a cyst, appears to be Georgia’s likely quarterback Saturday.
Pittman has spoken highly of Mathis and admitted Wednesday the circumstances would have emotionally overwhelmed him had the timing allowed him face to face meeting instead of texting his Georgia offensive linemen that he had accepted the Arkansas head coaching job.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m a crier,” Pittman said. “And if I had to sit in front of them and tell them I was leaving I would have bawled my eyes out. I love those guys to this day. It would have been very difficult.”
Pittman and Smart praised each other Wednesday as they have previously this week.
After hard practices in pads Monday and Tuesday, the Razorbacks were scheduled to practice in shoulder pads and shorts in Wednesday’s closed practice.