Georgia’s defense had been put in a bad start to open the second half. The Georgia offense, after floundering for almost the entire first half against a defense that gave up 36.8 points per game last season, turned the ball over on the opening possession of the third quarter.
The Razorbacks started with their best field position of the day and got inside the red zone, threatening to make it a two-score game.
Fortunately, the Bulldogs made yet another defensive play — a Nolan Smith and Nakobe Dean sack — to force a field goal and hold Arkansas to a 10-5 lead.
The offense finally got things going on the next possession, scoring a touchdown to give Georgia its first lead of the game. The Georgia defense then forced an immediate three-and-out, one of eight on the day. It set-up another Georgia scoring drive, pushing Georgia’s lead to 20-10.
The Bulldogs defense literally took matters into its own hands on the next drive, as Eric Stokes intercepted a Feleipe Franks pass and returned it for a touchdown. The score was now 27-10.
Just to fully lock up the win, Richard LeCounte intercepted a trick-play pass gone horribly wrong on the next possession. It was his second of the day and the one-handed snag served as an exclamation mark on the group’s effort.
But there were times during the first half where it felt the offense was so horrid that it might actually sabotage the Georgia defense. With just over a minute left int he first half, Georgia had 110 total yards and 98 penalty yards.
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All of those penalty yards weren’t on the offense, as the defense contributed to what Smart repeatedly called a sloppy effort. The lone touchdown Georgia gave up happened due in part to a pass interference penalty caused by Stokes. That extended an Arkansas drive and set-up a 49-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to Treylon Burks.
“We lost contain on the touchdown pass and we ran a stunt where we tried to get some penetration and get him flushed so we lost contain,” Smart said of the play. “And then they got behind us.”
After that one goof, Arkansas struggled to do much of anything for the rest of the game. The Georgia defense added 2.0 sacks, but constantly put Franks into situations where he quickly had to get rid of the ball.
“They’re getting after the quarterback, getting that rush,” LeCounte said. “Being able to make the quarterback react faster and make throws that put the ball in the air. Make those 50-50 balls. As a safety, as a defensive back you have to be able to go take it.”
The Bulldogs held Arkansas to just 280 total yards. If you add in the safety the defense forced in the first half to go along with the Stokes interception, the unit that some have hailed as the best in the country scored 8 points while giving up only 10.
Both LeCounte and Smart spoke about how the team needed to play complementary football. How the offense needs to help out the defense and vice-versa.
The hope is that the team eventually gets to that point. But the Arkansas game pretty clearly showed the defense, with all the talent, hype and now a strong first effort, is going to have to hold up the offense while it gets its legs under it.
“We’re gonna have to use them as we build the rest of our team up and grow our team,” Smart said. “I love the way those guys and the way they go out and compete. They just love playing the game. They’ve got so much fire.”
For the struggles on the offensive side of the ball though, the defense never lost confidence in themselves and the offense. At this point, LeCounte, Stokes and so many of the Georgia defenders are used to it by now given that was how much of the 2019 season played out.
Georgia has to play better offensively, especially with games against Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky in the next four weeks. It showed on Saturday that it has a pretty great defense.
And the hope is that the defense can continue to hold up the Georgia team until the offense can catch up.
“We’re gonna get it. We have a lot of guys dedicated to winning,” LeCounte said. “Everything that we need to put the defense we’re down for. I’ve never seen a group of guys that is so relentless and ready to win. That’s a great formula for a great defense and also a great team.”
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