Georgia scored 32 points in the second half and overcome a sluggish start to come away with a 37-10 win over Arkansas in the season opener.
Football has returned, but for Razorback fans it was the 20th straight loss in the SEC after a first half that was about as good defensively as they have played in a few years.
The No. 4 Bulldogs trailed at halftime, 7-5, gave up a quick field goal to start the third quarter before ringing up 22 points in the third quarter and blow the game open.
Trailing 7-5 at halftime must not have set too well with Georgia coach Kirby Smart.
Who knows what he said at halftime but he got the Bulldogs’ attention, especially on defense where they have flipped the script on Arkansas, opening a 27-10 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
Georgia has done most of the damage with Stetson Bennett coming in at quarterback and settling down the offense while the Hogs’ offense struggled in the third period, getting just 71 yards of offense and most of that coming on a 43-yard drive just after halftime.
Myles Slusher recovered a fumble caused by Jalen Catalon and the Hogs got inside the Georgia 10 and had to settle for a field goal from A.J. Reed for a 10-5 lead.
The Bulldogs’ offense then kicked into gear and ran off 22 unanswered points.
Lost in the offensive ineptitude of both teams in the first half is Arkansas’ defense under Barry Odom is playing better than it has in years.
Yes, the Razorbacks’ 7-5 lead at halftime more closely resembles the baseball team and Georgia has been completely effective at bumbling and shooting itself in the foot but the defense is not giving up big plays, putting forth an effort not seen in a long time and winning the line of scrimmage.
It’s okay. I didn’t see that coming, either.
The best drive for the Bulldogs in the first half was managing to move down as the Hogs played the dreaded prevent defense and managed. to get 177 for the first half, 129 of that on the ground.
While the Hogs’ offense has struggled to find much rhythm, the defense has been 1-12 on third downs, which is a startling change from the last few years. Arkansas has converted 2-of-8 on third down.
That’s not a good number, really, but for Arkansas to be ahead at halftime on third-down conversions is completely new.
Georgia got a safety when the Hogs managed to mess up a reverse and were lucky the ball got out of the end zone, then a field goal as time expired in the first half.
The Hogs are still in it at halftime, which will surprise some folks.
On talk radio shows last week the general opinion was this game would be over long before halftime, but no one saw the defense playing like it is.
If the Hogs can settle down the offense just a little, this game could get interesting in the fourth quarter.
While the first quarter wasn’t a thing of beauty in any respect, Arkansas did show signs of looking very different from the 4-20 mess we’ve seen the last couple of years.
The Razorbacks couldn’t get any decent field position in the first quarter that saw them hold a 7-0 lead as the defense combined with Georgia penalties (8-73) for about as good of a start to the Sam Pittman Era as anyone could expect.
Both teams turned the ball over once, but the overall play of the Hogs’ defense may be the biggest eye-opener.
The Bulldogs could muster just 68 yards total and redshirt freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis was nearly decapitated by Hogs linebacker Bumper Pool on a legal hit early in the first period in front of the Arkansas bench area.
Feleipe Franks was just four-of-13 for 91 yards and a 49-yard scoring toss, but he was also constantly pressured and Georgia’s defense wasn’t letting Rakeem Boyd get any breathing room running side (4-12 yards).
It took over a full season for Treylon Burks to get a touchdown but he broke free on a secondary bust by Georgia for a 49-yard grab from Feleipe Burks.
Before the snap of the ball it was clear the Bulldogs’ secondary had a bad alignment and Burks, in the slot on the left, was going to have a shot if he broke cleanly … which he did.
Franks delivered the pass, Burks broke an arm tackle down the left sideline for the score giving the Hogs an early lead over No. 4 Georgia.