No. 4 Georgia enters Saturday’s season opener at Arkansas as a big favorite, and there seems to be more talk about what the Bulldogs have coming up in the following five weeks than on the trip to Fayetteville itself.
After taking on the Razorbacks, who are coming off a 2-10 season and have lost 19 consecutive SEC games, coach Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs are home against Auburn and Tennessee, on the road at Alabama and Kentucky, and in Jacksonville for the annual tussle with Florida.
It is a stretch that likely will determine their fate in the SEC East Division, but Smart insists his team’s focus is clearly on the Hogs.
“It’s your first opportunity to create your identity and figure out who your leaders are, figure out who we’re going to be on all three phases,” he said. “You don’t define that moment until kids have some adversity or go out and get some butterflies.”
First-year Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, who spent the past four seasons as Georgia’s offensive line coach, doesn’t expect his former boss to be looking past his team.
“Kirby Smart, I promise you, is preparing for us as hard as he would prepare for Alabama,” Pittman said. “That’s his makeup.”
The matchup against Georgia will mark the first time that the Hogs have opened the season against an SEC foe. The Bulldogs opened last year against conference opponent Vanderbilt.
The meeting with the Razorbacks, of course, came about after schedules were juggled to accommodate adjustments brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Arkansas originally was scheduled to open Sept. 5 at home against Nevada. Georgia was to open against Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game Sept. 7 in Atlanta. As members of different divisions, the Bulldogs and Hogs weren’t even scheduled to meet this fall.
“Never in my wildest dreams when I took the job did I think that Georgia would the first opponent. But it is,” Pittman said. “I’m very thankful and grateful to have the opportunity to coach at Georgia and coach under Kirby Smart. I learned a lot, and he was very, very good to me.”
The Bulldogs have several new faces from last season’s 12-2 East Division champions, perhaps the most notable at quarterback. Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman was ticketed to succeed Jake Fromm but earlier this month announced he was opting out to prepare for the NFL draft.
Southern California transfer JT Daniels and redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis are ticketed to play against Arkansas, though when the week began Daniels was still awaiting medical clearance after recovering from last year’s knee injury.
“We hope JT will be cleared by Saturday, officially,” Smart said.
The Razorbacks also will have a new quarterback with Florida transfer Feleipe Franks taking over. Franks was 0-2 against Georgia as a Gator but a knee injury sidelined him for last year’s meeting.
“I feel like we’re going to be able to do some things in the passing game,” Pittman said.
–Field Level Media