HOGS vs Ga. Southern preview

HOGS vs Ga. Southern preview

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FAYETTEVILLE - Back in December, Saturday’s Arkansas vs. Georgia Southern game loomed tough for Arkansas.

It doesn’t seem so challenging now, and that could make it all the tougher for Arkansas (2-0), playing host to Sun Belt Conference member Georgia Southern (1-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network.

On Dec. 23 last winter, GSU coach Chad Lunsford’s Eagles, who return the entire starting offensive line this fall, routed respected Louisiana Tech 38-3 in the New Orleans Bowl.

The victory lived up to Georgia Southern's tradition. The late Erik Russell coached the Eagles to three 1-AA national championships, and Coach Jeff Monken’s 2013 Eagles stunned Florida 26-20 at the Gators’ Swamp.

This year’s Eagles started slowly, winning only 30-25 over underdog Gardner-Webb. After leading 6-0 then fumbling in the red zone, they fell 38-6 last week to a Florida Atlantic team that GSU defeated last year.

“They had an opportunity to go up 13-0, then it kind of went south on them after that,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said.

Meanwhile, Arkansas trailed Rice 17-7 at 10:28 of the third quarter but rallied to win its season-opener 38-17. Last Saturday before a standing room only crowd, the Razorbacks shocked No. 15 Texas  40-21, dominating the Longhorns on both sides of the ball start to finish, including a 16-0 first half.

The Razorbacks, ranked 20th and 24th in the AP and Coaches polls, have enjoyed a week of national praise and attaboys from Hog fans euphoric over beating Texas. It's all compounded by the natural temptation to look ahead to the Sept. 25 SEC opener against No. 5 Texas A&M. CBS plans to televise that game at 2:30 p.m. at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.

Pittman warns his Hogs better not look ahead. Especially since Justin Tomlin, the GSU quarterback who beat Florida Atlantic last year, returns this week after missing the season’s first two games with academic issues.

Tomlin quarterbacks GSU’s triple option, football’s offensive rage in the 1960s and 1970s. The schemes is difficult to counter now because defenses so rarely play against it.

“Big-time athlete,” Pittman said of Tomlin. “In their first two games, I think they pitched the ball on the option four times. He’s going to pitch it, if he needs to pitch it, and he’s going to keep it and he’s going to hand it off. He’s got experience at it, and he throws the ball as well. A good thrower. I think coach is doing exactly what he needs to do with his talent running that option. In my opinion, he’s truly going to take that offense to a different level.”

The assignment football required of a defense to cover the triple option is such that Pittman devoted some August practice time to defending Georgia Southern.

“We had different individual periods and probably spent three to four different days working on their option,” Pittman said.  “Because we didn't feel like we could get it all just like we wanted in a week's time.”

Instead of just the scout team this week, Pittman had his second offensive unit quarterbacked by cat-quick backup Malik Hornsby emulating Tomlin and the GSU offense against the UA first-team defense.

“I think that's one of the most important things we did was getting to see them and preview it,” said Arkansas senior linebacker Bumper Pool (in Ted McClenning file photo above). “At the time, we thought it was so far away, but the season comes up so quickly. So, getting to see it just so it's familiar is huge. I feel like we know what they're doing, and just to have a step up on them this week we're excited about it."

Asked about GSU’s defense, Pittman replied, “They fly to the football.”

And while undersized, GSU will compensate in toughness. Pittman said he knows this to be true from coaching the University of Georgia’s offensive line from 2016-2019 and recruiting in Georgia for a variety of schools.

“I told our team, when you go to Georgia that if you want to go find one that’s guaranteed tough, go to South Georgia,” Pittman said. “He (Lunsford) has got a lot of kids from down there. So we know they’re going to be an extremely tough, physical, hard-playing team.”

The Razorbacks proved tough last week against Texas.

Paced by an offensive line blowing out the Texas D-line, quarterback KJ Jefferson and four running backs, Trelon Smith, Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, AJ Green and Dominique Johnson, led the Razorbacks to 333 rushing yards. They tallied four rushing TDs, one from each 'back.

The defense, with Arkansas needing just three down linemen to occupy Texas’ offensive line, held Texas Heisman Trophy candidate running back Bijan Robinson to 69 yards on 19 carries. Some of Robinson’s best runs were just beyond the line of scrimmage to avoid losses from UA tackling swarms led by linebackers Hayden Henry (15 tackles), Grant Morgan (13 tackles) and Pool (10 tackles in the second half only).

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