Monty Rice Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Georgia football defense ready for first test against ‘fast-tempo’ Arkansas offense

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Georgia football defense knows what it’s getting Arkansas offense

On paper, there’s a lot of familiarity between Georgia and Arkansas. The Razorbacks’ head coach is former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman. There are multiple former assistants on the staff.

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The defensive coordinator is Barry Odom, the former Missouri head coach with whom Kirby Smart matched wits with over the past four seasons.

Georgia even has some old tape on quarterback Feleipe Franks, as the Bulldogs played him twice when he was the starting quarterback at Florida.

But despite all the familiar faces, Kirby Smart and the Georgia defense aren’t banking too much on prior knowledge to prepare for their first game against the Razorbacks.

Part of that is due in part to Arkansas’ offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. While Pittman is best known for having over-powering offensive lines, Briles is much more known for playing with tempo and speed.

“Coach [Kendal] Briles is a really good football coach, and you have seen what he’s been able to do historically with offensives in terms of numbers,” Smart said. “He does a great job. He presents a lot of problems and issues because the pace at which they play and a quarterback that we all know.”

Players like outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson said they’re well aware of how Arkansas might try and create success against a stout Georgia defense by using tempo to off-set any differences in talent.

“He likes to move fast, fast tempo with the offense,” Smart said. “I believe Coach Smart has had us out there running fast to be ready for that.”

One of Johnson’s former JUCO teammates also figures to be a focal point for the Arkansas offense, as running back Rakeem Boyd ran for 1,133 yards last season. The two were teammates at Independence Community College before arriving at Georgia and Arkansas respectively.

Even with the new wrinkles though, Georgia’s defense is still expected to live up to its vaunted reputation. A season ago, the group led the country in rush defense and scoring defense.

Now that unit returns eight starters along with a host of contributions looking to take on a bigger role. Players such as Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith, defensive players who earned Preseason All-SEC honors yet weren’t even starters for the Georgia defense in 2019.

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Given the questions and concerns with the offensive side of the ball this year, the defense is going to be asked to do a lot, especially early in the season. There’s been talk about improving the pass rush and creating more havoc this season.

But as far as goals or benchmarks, the Georgia defense isn’t looking to go out and shutout Arkansas or lead the nation in every defensive category.

“We just play to our standard,” Linebacker Monty Rice said. “Play hard and play for each other. Just be the best player I can be for the team.”

Just about all eyes will be on the offensive side of the ball when Georgia takes the field on Saturday, largely because of the questions surrounding the quarterback position, the skill players and the new-look offensive line.

Most assume the Georgia defense will play up to that Georgia standard. While the Bulldogs may not be able to replicate the speed with which Arkansas will play, they’ve been practicing against a Georgia offense every day that has better-recruited talent.

Factor that in with the strong depth and continuity — something Arkansas does not have while the Bulldogs bring back every defensive coach from last season — and the Bulldogs should have a chance to ace their first test of the 2020 season.

“It is very challenging [and] going up against those guys each and every day,” Center Trey Hill said on facing the Georgia defense in practice every day. “Just running the ball and passing the ball—I don’t think you see anything better.”

Georgia football linebackers Monty Rice, Jermaine Johnson discuss defense prior to Arkansas game