The No. 20 Arkansas Razorbacks will host Georgia Southern Saturday in the first-ever matchup between the teams. The Hogs enter the game as a whopping 23.5-point favorite, according to ESPN.
The Razorbacks are going into a game ranked for the first time since November 2016. Arkansas also has the chance to make its first 3-0 start since 2016.
“Well I think we should be ranked,” Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman said Monday in a press conference. “I think we’re a Top-25 team and I’m proud we are.”
The Razorbacks are coming off a dominant 40-21 win against No. 15 Texas, while Georgia Southern just faced an embarrassing 38-6 loss to Florida Atlantic.
It will be a battle of the running game, as both teams have loaded backfields and rank in the top 20 nationally in rushing yards per game. The Eagles and Hogs average 249.5 and 289 rushing yards per game, respectively. Arkansas has only allowed one run over 10 yards and has limited teams to 105.5 rushing yards per game.
The Eagles run the tricky triple option offense. The Razorback defense will need to be aware of senior running backs Logan Wright and Amare Jones. Wright has 206 yards on 30 attempts, averaging nearly seven yards per carry, and has two touchdowns. He got banged up in the game against FAU and is questionable for Saturday. Jones has 119 yards on 28 carries for the year.
“Our defense is going to have to prepare for them,” Pittman said. “We certainly prepared for them in fall camp. We probably spent three or four different days working on their option, because we didn’t feel we could get it just how we wanted it in a week's time.”
A third running back, sophomore Gerald Green, has 73 yards and a touchdown on 12 rushes, and he is the team’s leading receiver with seven catches for 71 yards.
The Hogs will counter with redshirt junior running back Trelon Smith, who has 177 yards and two touchdowns on 34 attempts this season. Arkansas has other weapons in the backfield as well.
Freshman Raheim “Rocket” Sanders has 94 yards and a touchdown on 15 attempts. Freshman A.J. Green is averaging nearly 10 yards per carry with a touchdown in his limited touches. Sophomore Domonique Johnson has 60 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson is second on the team with 162 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
“Anytime you have a threat of someone like that running the football, you’re going to take more guys out of the box to the edge,” Pittman said. “Your linebackers are going to play a little bit wider to stop his ability to run and it helped us hand the ball off.”
If Jefferson is going to have a big game passing the ball, Saturday is the day to do it. The Eagles have allowed 348.5 passing yards and 481 total yards per game this season. Jefferson has completed 65% of his passes on the year, but averages just 133 yards per game.
The Eagles will get a boost this week with their returning redshirt junior quarterback Justin Tomlin, who is coming off a two-game academics-related suspension.
Tomlin has 69 rushing attempts for 392 yards, but only 51 passing attempts for 323 yards in his 16-game career.
Georgia Southern does not pass often, but the offensive line protects the quarterback well, allowing just half a sack in the first two games. Arkansas has been nearly as good, allowing just one sack this season.
If the Razorbacks look to take advantage of the Eagles’ seemingly poor passing defense, they have wide receivers who can impact the game. Preseason All-SEC junior Treylon Burks has 10 catches for 79 yards and senior Tyson Morris has four catches for 81 yards and Arkansas’ only receiving touchdown.
Arkansas will look to slice up the defense at 3 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.