FAYETTEVILLE — No. 20 Arkansas will host Georgia Southern on Saturday with hopes of remaining undefeated as they play their third game in a row in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Razorbacks opened the season with a 38-17 win over Rice and then 40-21 over Texas. Georgia Southern defeated Gardner-Webb 30-25 to open the season, but fell to Florida Atlantic 38-6 last week. It appears like a mismatch on paper, but the Eagles were 8-5 last season.
Among the eight wins was a 38-3 victory on Louisiana Tech in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. They were 10-3 in 2018 and lost to Georgia 23-17 in overtime in 2015. Ole Miss beat them 37-27 in 2016. But their big win was Nov. 23, 2013, when they went into Gainesville to upset Florida 26-20. It would be easy for Arkansas to overlook the Eagles considering they are sandwiched in between Texas and Texas A&M on the schedule something Sam Pittman is very aware of as a possibility and was asked how to avoid that happening?
“Well, you try to have the media not say what you just did would be the first thing,” Pittman said. “Nah, you know I’m teasing. To be honest with you, I’m not one bit concerned about it, and I’m not going to talk about it a lot. From the way that we beat Mississippi State last year and went to Auburn and had that call at the end of the game. Our kids could have gotten the big head after Mississippi State, but they didn’t. They played a good game against Auburn. That happened. They came back and beat Ole Miss. Went and played A&M pretty good last year. It was a pretty good game for us, then we came home and beat Ole Miss. So, we have proven in the past we can just flush whatever success, or however bad it may be, we can flush it and go to the next week. I believe that is what we will do.”
Georgia Southern will have its starting quarterback Justin Tomlin for the first time this season. He served a two-game suspension due to academics. Pittman talked about the issues Tomlin can cause.
“Big-time athlete you know,” Pittman said. “He throws the ball as well. In their first two games I think they pitched the ball on the option four times. And then you turn his in there and he’s going to pitch it if he needs to pitch it and he’s going to keep it if he needs and he’s going to hand it out. So he’s got experience at it. Very good athlete. Elusive, fast, I like him. A good thrower. I think coach is doing exactly what he needs to do with his talent running that option. And he’s got a big back. I like that big back that rushed for I don’t know what it was, 150-plus in the first game where they just ran the power with him and inside zone off the option, with the threat of option as well.”
The big back Pittman refers to is Logan Wright, 6-0, 230, who carried 26 times for 177 yards and a touchdown in the season opener.
“I’ve really been impressed with Georgia Southern on film,” Pittman said. “Offensively, they have a lot of problems for us. They run option every which way they can run it. We did spend some time in fall camp on those guys. They return their starting five. Their quarterback Tomlin is now coming back for the first time this year. I love their big running back Logan Wright.
“On defense, they get after you in an odd front, run to the ball. I know from being over at Georgia those South Georgia kids are tough, physical and want to play. So we have our work cut out for us but we have a lot of respect for the Georgia Southern program.”
The option game will challenge the fact Arkansas has only given up one run of 10 yards or longer this season. Linebacker Bumper Pool is very aware of the pressure an option offense can put on a defense.
“It’s going to cause us to have to be very disciplined,” Pool said. “It’s something we have to pride ourselves on this week in practice, everyone doing their job and honing in on their responsibilities. We saw them in camp. We kind of spent a day on them just because it is a different style of offense, but we’re very excited about it and have another few practices to lock in and get it down.”
That means the safeties such as Joe Foucha and Jalen Catalon will lend a lot of run support this week.
“As for the guys on the back end, it’s going to be about your eyes and discipline,” Foucha said. “Make sure everyone is doing their job, filling the right gaps. That’s how we’re going to go about it, and that’s going to help us win the game because they have a triple-option. They do a lot of option throughout the game. So, just for us to have our eyes in the right spot is going to be the biggest key for this game.”
One thing about Tomlin likely to play and start it hasn’t caused Arkansas to do much guessing this week in practice about who will be the quarterback. Pittman explained why the Hogs didn’t have to change the preparation.
“I don’t think (it does) a lot, because the offense is similar,” Pittman said. “It’s kind of the same. I don’t think a whole lot, except we’re going to have to show our kids last year’s tape to see him and all his abilities. He made some pitches last year that so far this year the other quarterbacks either didn’t (make) or aren’t comfortable doing. He’s truly going to take that offense, in my opinion, to a different level, because he has done it so much and I’m sure he’s been practicing. I don’t know a whole lot, except we’re just going to have to show them how talented he is.”
Pittman talked about the keys to stopping the option game they will see on Saturday.
“I expect them to play him,” Pittman said of Tomlin. “He was their starter last year, really good player. I thought 19, the quarterback they have now, was doing a nice job. They were kind of using 5, who was their running back as well in the first game. This last game, they used 19 more. He played as well. They guy they’ll get back had a two-game suspension. He was their starter. I’m sure he’s been practicing the entire time. To defend the option, it’s a triple a lot of times, sometimes it’s not. You have to have someone for the dive, someone for the quarterback and then you have to have both inside and outside on a pitch. We have to make him pitch the football because I think they’ve pitched the ball four times in two games. The quarterback wants to run the football. Maybe their veteran quarterback is different. You have to be sound because if you’re not it’s like getting outside of 21 other guys and you’re gone at that point. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
The fact Georgia Southern lost to a FAU team they beat handily in 2020 doesn’t cause Pittman to think this game will be easier than expected.
“You can’t really caught up in 38-6, because Georgia Southern was up 6-0 and had an opportunity to go up 13-0, and fumbled down around the 7 or 8-yard line in the second quarter,” Pittman said. “Then it kind of went south on them after that. So they played a really good first half. They just couldn’t get much going in the second half.
“I do know this about South Georgia kids. They’re tough. They’re a little bit like us, I think, they’ve kind of got a little chip on their shoulder, and maybe are fighting to get respect, and things of that nature. But it went south on them, to me, I don’t know, I’m not their coach. But to me, after they fumbled down there with an opportunity to go up two scores (is when things went south).”
Knowing this game was coming Pittman worked on the Georgia Southern late in preseason after the Hogs have all their installs in. Pool feels that was big not to wait until this week to prepare for an offense they don’t see in SEC.
“I think that’s one of the most important things that we did was getting to see them and preview it,” Pool said. “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 getting to have a step up on them this week we’re excited about it.”
Left tackle Myron Cunningham knows the Hogs will face a scrappy defense on Saturday.
“They’re just a hard working defense,” Cunningham said. “I wouldn’t say they do anything crazy up front. They like to move because compared to SEC they’re a little smaller. When you’re smaller you’ve got to do things to make up for it. They like to move, twist their fronts and sometimes bring their nickel or rotate safeties.”
Arkansas and Georgia Southern will kickoff at 3 p.m. on the SEC Network.