FAYETTEVILLE – Against what new Arkansas Head Coach/ former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman calls the best defense in the country, the Razorbacks start a young offensive line vs. Pittman’s old team.
Georgia’s Bulldogs rank No. 4 in the country and likely would be No. 1 if defense was the only name in the football game.
A mismatch in the making at 3 p.m. Saturday at Reynolds Stadium it would seem. The Razorbacks off consecutive 2-10 seasons now starting last year’s true freshman starting guard at center and otherwise first-time starting redshirt freshmen guards. They’ll either start a third-year sophomore injured all last season or last year’s incumbent at right tackle with the lone senior starter at left tackle.
None made any of the AP’s three All-SEC teams which seven from Georgia’s defense did.
Nevertheless, Arkansas senior offensive team captains Feleipe Franks, the graduate transfer former Florida Gators starting quarterback, and Rakeem Boyd, 1,133 rushing yards last season despite the Razorbacks’ records, believe this line will lay it on the line.
Center Ricky Stromberg, guards Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer, left tackle Myron Cunningham and either Noah Gatlin, idled all 2019 by preseason knee surgery, or fourth-year junior Dalton Wagner are the ones assigned clear Boyd’s paths and keep Franks upright.
“I have full confidence in those guys,” Franks, who behind a good Florida line quarterbacked the 2018 Gators to a 10-3 season and started in 2019 until breaking his ankle in the season’s third game. “I think the whole offense can speak for this as well, we all have full confidence in those guys. We know the offense starts with those guys and they’ve done a tremendous job. Coach (Brad) Davis (Arkansas’ offensive line coach) has done a great job of working with those guys and getting them prepared and ready for this Saturday.”
Under Pittman and Davis and strength coach Jamil Walker, Boyd sees a bigger, stronger more physical line than last year’s.
“The young guys have been doing an amazing job,” Boyd said. “Those guys, I’ve been very proud of them and all I can do is trust them.”
And trust that regardless what happens early, that the Hogs will stay patient running the ball with Boyd, their line entrant on the Coaches All-SEC teams on the second team.
That’s quarterback Franks’ intention.
“I think establishing the run game is important in the game of football in general,” Franks said. “This coming up Saturday we’ve got to establish the run game and I think our guys up front are ready for that and ready for the challenge.”
Franks may factor some in that running game, too. He’s known more for his arm than his legs but he did rush for 350 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018 and according to Pittman is “a mobile quarterback.”
“If the play breaks down I want to be able to extend the play,” Franks said. “I feel like I should be able to. And when I’m asked to run the ball I need to do it with full effort.”
Franks said his ankle has healed for full go full effort. He’s waited since that Sept. 14 injury against Kentucky that sidelined him for the 2019 season for a game to go full go.
“Oh man, it’s wonderful,” Franks said of Game Day approaching. It’s been awhile. It’s been over a year since I’ve gotten on a football field and played in a game. I’m excited just to get out there again. Now it’s with a new team and now it’s with a group of brothers that I’ve been grinding with since I’ve gotten here.”
They truly feel like brothers to him electing him a captain along with Boyd and senior defensive captains Grant Morgan and Jonathan Marshall.
Franks has only been in Fayetteville since January.
“Yeah, I was definitely touched by it,” Franks said. “It’s an honor. It’s a big deal for them to think of me like that in a short period of time.”
Same for Boyd, the running back said. Boyd could have gotten that vote back in January when he announced he would not declare for the 2020 NFL draft.
And with all the COVID-19 uncertainty wouldn’t have been blamed had he opted out before this season began.
It never crossed his mind.
“I can’t do that to my team,” Boyd said. “I came back to establish something so opting out wasn’t even in the talk.” You know what I mean?”