This one is a little harder to swallow than the South Carolina game because Georgia fought so hard to get back and were in position to take control of the game late in the 4th quarter. Unfortunately, depth reared it's ugly head. Going into the game Georgia knew that it would be without star receiver A.J. Green (NCAA Suspension), starting FB Shaun Chapas, starting TB Caleb King and two-way speed merchant Branden Smith. With the game tied Georgia had a 3rd and 4 or 5 at mid-field, Aaron Murray dropped back to pass and just got destroyed by an Arkansas end before Murray even had a chance to think. The culprit? Washaun Ealey missed a key block that gave Arkansas the ball back and led directly to Arkansas's winning TD drive.
I'm not here to throw Washaun Ealey under the bus. He's a good RB and does a lot of things better than Caleb King. But King is a much better blocker and would have been in the game in this position if he was healthy and he would have made that block. After that who knows? Maybe Murray completes the pass, maybe he doesn't. I'm not here to play what ifs. The point is that Georgia doesn't have the depth right now to compete for an SEC title and that needs to change. In addition to Ealey's missed block, Branden Smith's replacement Sanders Commings made a big mistake on the Arkansas wheel route that went for the game winning TD as he bit down on the underneath route leaving the deep guy open. Football is a game of inches and while that play was far from inches this game was in Georgia's grasp and we just didn't finish the drill.
The positives that I take away from this game for Georgia is the heart that they showed down 14 points in the 4th quarter to come back and tie up the game. The receivers stepped up and had good games. Kris Durham made some great plays (5 rec for 101 yds) and Tavarres King stepped up as well (4 rec for 91 yds and a hard fought TD). The DL played better and I thought the LBs played better against the run. Aaron Murray continues to develop. At times he looked like a freshman, but at times you see his upside potential and you see the star quality that he has (15 of 27 for 253, 1 passing TD, 1 rushing TD, 1 INT). Murray's QB rating is 44th in the Nation right now and that puts him ahead of guys like Jacory Harris, Landry Jones, Christian Ponder, Taylor Potts, John Brantley, Blaine Gabbert, Jeremiah Masoli, and Jake Locker (if you put stock into that statistic).
The negatives are the holes in the secondary (aka blown coverages; which also happened against South Carolina but Stephen Garcia wasn't good enough to take advantage of it). Obviously, we knew that we would give up some plays against Arkansas because their bread and butter is the passing game. But we gave up too many. Losing Branden Smith hurt but it wasn't the reason that we played so poorly. The fact is that Brandon Boykin is the only returning starter in the secondary and we have a new scheme that the guys are learning. If our guys can't learn this scheme and perform then we need to see Derek Owens and Alec Ogletree in the game learning and gaining valuable playing time.
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Where do we go from here? When I looked at the schedule I knew that the beginning of the schedule would be tough. Arkansas and South Carolina are good teams but I thought that at worst Georgia would win 1 game of the two and be 2-1 and in a position to compete in the SEC East. As it stands now Georgia is 1-2 (0-2 in the SEC East) and it would take some luck (and Georgia basically running the table) to get back into the race at this point.
Georgia needs to get healthy as we just can't afford to be without key guys right now (on a side note we need a really good recruiting class this year to get back some depth as it appears we don't have guys ready to come in and fill in where needed). Georgia is not that far away but is just far away enough that we have two losses. Georgia is one fumble (inside the 5 yard line) away from basically tying the game against South Carolina in the 2nd half and one block away from having a great chance to beat Arkansas. Georgia has a must win road game at Miss State in Stark Vegas this week where both teams are playing with their backs against the wall. In terms of Arkansas, this was a huge win as it got the monkey off of their back regarding playing on the road. Arkansas now has a tough stretch of games as they play Alabama (loss), Texas A&M (win) and play at Auburn (probable win).