Georgia coach Kirby Smart warned everyone that this wasn’t the same Arkansas team the Bulldogs blew out to begin last season. That’s true. The Razorbacks finished 3-7 last season. This season they’d become the nation’s eighth-ranked team with victories over Texas and Texas A&M.
But Smart’s team is better, too, and the game Saturday was at Sanford Stadium instead of Fayetteville. Arkansas couldn’t handle the Bulldogs in their rollicking building. Arkansas was shaken from the start and never recovered as No. 2 Georgia rolled to a 37-0 victory.
Arkansas discovered that just being better isn’t enough to beat the Bulldogs. The Hogs had to be great to have a chance to win. They had to hold up on the line of scrimmage to do anything at all. Arkansas got whipped up front and self-destructed with 13 penalties for 101 yards.
The Hogs weren’t ready for a game like this even though their starting quarterback played while Georgia’s didn’t. JT Daniels sat out with a back injury that he’s been dealing with for weeks. Smart said Daniels has a Grade 1 strain of the latissimus dorsi muscle. Daniels missed the Sept. 11 Alabama-Birmingham game with an oblique injury.
“We don’t know if the oblique compounded the ‘lat,’” Smart said.
Smart said Daniels’ injury is comparable with one suffered by Dak Prescott. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback hurt his back during a July 28 practice and didn’t return until Aug. 25.
“We think we’ll be able to get (Daniels) back, but we don’t know when,” Smart said.
Smart added: “I’m not losing sleep over it because it’s beyond our control, and Stetson Bennett is a really good quarterback. I keep saying that, and people don’t believe it, but he’s a really good quarterback.”
Smart said he was frustrated by questions about Daniels’ status because he wanted the focus to be on Georgia’s effort against Arkansas. The coach better get used to it. It’s national championship-or-bust for the Bulldogs, and their starting quarterback is out indefinitely. That’s a big story so long as Daniels is sidelined.
Credit Bennett for throwing five touchdowns against UAB and taking care of the ball against Arkansas. The Bulldogs can win big games with Bennett. Two of their victories in his starts came against then-No. 7 Auburn last season and No. 8 Arkansas on Saturday. The two losses were at No. 2 Alabama and against No. 8 Florida last season.
Bennett made his first start at Arkansas last season and passed for 211 yards on 29 attempts with two touchdowns. Bennett didn’t have to throw much this time (11 attempts) because Georgia had its way running the ball (273 yards on 56 attempts with three TDs).
Said Bennett: “We knew they were just asking, challenging us: Can we run the ball? They said we couldn’t. We said we could today.”
Arkansas starting quarterback KJ Jefferson started the game despite a knee injury. Jefferson and his running backs spent much of the day dodging defenders in the backfield and struggling to function with the crowd noise. Smart’s defenses always are great. This one might be his best yet.
The Hogs were in trouble from the start. Their first drive began with two false start penalties and things didn’t get much better from there.
Arkansas trailed 21-0 after a quarter. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on each of their first two possessions and recovered a blocked punt for another score. Then Georgia’s white-hot energy to begin the game dissipated. The Hogs never came close to rallying because they couldn’t pass, stop the run or quit committing penalties (they drew three flags one play in the third quarter).
There was a moment when it seemed Arkansas might recover. On Georgia’s second drive, Arkansas stopped White for a 1-yard gain on third-and-2. White ran again on fourth down. Arkansas defenders pushed back Georgia’s blockers and White got hit in the backfield.
But White brushed off the tackle attempt and ran three yards for a first down at the Arkansas 32-yard line. On the next play, Bennett lofted a pass to Kenny McIntosh for a 27-yard gain. Kendall Milton ran for a touchdown two plays later. The Razorbacks couldn’t stop Georgia or do much of anything right.
After Arkansas self-circuited with the false starts on its first drive, its second possession began at its 7-yard line following a muffed fair catch attempt. The Razorbacks couldn’t gain a first down. They tried to punt from the end zone, but Georgia’s Dan Jackson blocked it, and White recovered for the touchdown.
Georgia led 21-0 after running only 15 plays. The Razorbacks finally got something going with Jefferson powering for runs. He gained 14 yards to get Arkansas past midfield. Jefferson’s 13-yard rumble got Arkansas in scoring range. But the Bulldogs stopped him for no gain on third-and-5.
The Razorbacks tried a 37-yard field goal and missed. The Bulldogs responded with a field goal for a 24-0 lead, then Arkansas went three-and-out again. The Bulldogs powered down for the rest of the half and part of the third quarter.
“We started lagging a little bit,” Bennett said. “We didn’t take (a win) for granted, but we weren’t really as focused. We’ve got to get better at that.”
Zamir White’s second rushing touchdown pushed the Georgia’s advantage to 34-0 early in the fourth. Jefferson was done for the day. Georgia breezed to another big victory margin.
The Bulldogs haven’t been tested since beating Clemson 10-3 in the opener. They are at Auburn next weekend. Kentucky comes to Athens the next week. Then there’s the weekend off before the showdown with No. 10 Florida in Jacksonville.
The Bulldogs should be favored to win all those games if Daniels plays. They’ve shown they can beat tough foes with Bennett under center.
“We know how good we are,” Bennett said.
Arkansas knows it, too. The Hogs are much better this season, but they weren’t nearly good enough to handle Georgia’s early surge on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.