Before the No. 8 Arkansas football team goes behind enemy lines to take on the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia, this Saturday, The Traveler went behind enemy bylines for a scouting report on Georgia.
The Arkansas Traveler sports editor Mason Choate sat down to talk with Jack Duffey, the football beat writer for Georgia’s student newspaper, The Red & Black.
Q: Georgia’s first four games, aside from Clemson, have not been very competitive. How do you gauge the team’s ability when they have not played great teams?
A: There’s not a whole lot you can really gauge about how good Georgia is against good teams based on their season so far. Because, now that you look at Clemson, their game does not look as good as it did to start the season. And then they’ve played three other teams that kind of look like cupcakes.
The one big takeaway, obviously, is that the defense is elite. The Bulldogs get a lot of pressure, which rattles a lot of opposing team’s quarterbacks. Whether or not Clemson has a good offense, the Georgia defense still shut them down. I think one big takeaway from the four games that we’ve seen is that the defense is really good.
The part where it gets confusing is that we don’t really know how the Georgia offense looks against a good defense. I don’t think that the Georgia offense has had a good game yet against a good defense, and I think that is going to be a challenge this weekend against a good Arkansas defense.
Q: JT Daniels has dealt with injuries and Stetson Bennett has filled in nicely. What is the situation at quarterback and how good is JT Daniels?
A: The job is 100% JT Daniels’. Stetson Bennett has played a decent number of snaps this season and that is for two reasons. Reason one is that Daniels sat out of the UAB game due to injury, so Stetson played that whole game and he went off for five touchdowns (and) had a really good game. And then the last two games you’ve seen Stetson come in because JT was pulled once the team was up (by so many points).
JT is 100% the starter, and that’s because he has incredible arm strength and pretty good accuracy. When he’s played, other than the Clemson game, he’s looked good and there’s been a lot of explosive downfield passes. It seems like he’s clicking more with the offensive weapons. But, where he has strength in his passing game, he lacks mobility. So, where Georgia has to step up is the offensive line.
Q: Georgia has had a lot of injuries this season, but it returns a few key players this week. How do those returning players benefit the team, and how do the ones still out hurt the team?
A: It benefits them for sure, because when you add Darnell Washington and Tykee Smith to a team that’s looked pretty good, it just puts you a step above. It feels like you’re getting this infusion that they are joining this team for the first time, and it just gets better.
A lot of the injured players were JT’s top targets last year. Obviously he’s started to click with other receivers this year like Arian Smith and Brock Bowers. But it’s hurt Georgia this year because those injuries have caused the Georgia offense to not necessarily click like you want to see. JT has not had enough connection with his new receivers.
On defense, you bring in a guy like Tykee Smith for a secondary that was already a position of question for the Bulldogs entering the season. He hasn’t been able to play, so getting him back this week to play against a team like Arkansas is a huge get. That’s adding a little safety and security to a position that they weren’t really sure about.
Q: What is the energy in Athens this week? Do the Georgia fans and players view Arkansas as a legitimate threat to upset the Bulldogs this weekend?
A: I think if Arkansas would have just beat one of the two Texas teams, Texas or Texas A&M, then the Georgia team would have probably slept on Arkansas a little bit more. But I think the fact that they are 4-0 (and) they beat both of the really good Texas teams on their schedule, that nobody is sleeping on Arkansas. Kirby Smart has said he wants the crowd to come out and be loud. He wants the crowd to be elite and he wants the players to be elite.
Among fans it’s kind of a mixed reaction. I’ve heard people talk about how Arkansas might be a better team because they’ve played better teams so far. They see Arkansas as a real test. I think everybody is taking this game seriously. That may benefit Georgia, but Arkansas might just be a really good team and come in and beat Georgia.
Q: Where do you see Georgia getting beat? If they lose to Arkansas, where did it go wrong?
A: There are two battles that Arkansas needs to win to beat Georgia. That’s at the line of scrimmage. They need to be able to get pressure on JT Daniels and stop the run because when you stop the run for Georgia, it makes JT Daniels very one-dimensional and it makes it much easier to slow down the Bulldogs’ offense. The other position battle I think they need to win is the Arkansas wide receivers need to get depth and separation from the Georgia secondary.
I look at Treylon Burks, who burned Texas A&M, who is a great defense. I see a lot of potential for big plays against Georgia. South Carolina burned Georgia for a few plays through the air. So that's an area where Arkansas needs to take advantage and swing the momentum to quiet the crowd a little bit.
Q: What do you think happens? Who wins this ballgame?
A: I’ve been teetering back and forth, but I think Georgia wins this game. The 18.5-point spread is too much. I do think Arkansas covers. I think they keep it competitive for about three-and-a-half quarters and then Georgia pulls away by maybe 10 to 14 points at the end there. If I had to guess, on paper Georgia’s the more talented team, (so) Georgia wins this game. I would say it’s going to be Georgia 31, Arkansas 21.