Arkansas plans on getting defensive this season
Arkansas knows it can score plenty of points.
Stopping the other team? That's been a problem for the Razorbacks.
It was never more evident than a year ago, when Ryan Mallett set school records by throwing for 408 yards and five touchdowns against Georgia - and still came up short. Journeyman quarterback Joe Cox threw five TD passes of his own, and the Bulldogs piled up 530 yards in a 52-41 victory at Fayetteville.
On Saturday, the No. 12 Razorbacks (2-0) will be eager to show there's more to this up-and-coming program than just a flashy offense when they visit Sanford Stadium for a Southeastern Conference rematch with Georgia (1-1).
So far, so good. Arkansas ranks fourth in the nation in yards allowed, just 187.5 per game.
''I've been very excited and pleased with the way our defense has been playing,'' coach Bobby Petrino said. ''The knowledge of the schemes, the speed we've been playing with, how fast we're getting to the football and the effort we're really playing with.''
But those impressive numbers should come with an asterisk. Arkansas' first two games were against Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe - hardly the level of competition they'll be facing in the rugged SEC, starting with the trip to Georgia and followed a week later by a visit from defending national champion Alabama.
''We've been working hard all summer, all spring, to make sure we (would) be that defense,'' Arkansas senior safety Rudell Crim said. ''This year, we're No. 4, but right now we're just focusing on making sure we do what we do and not looking at the hype and just playing defense like we know how to play defense.''
In 2009, the Razorbacks surrendered at least 30 points in four games and held the opposition to less than 20 only four times. That offset the good work turned in by the Mallett-led offense, which led the SEC in scoring at 36 points a game but still wasn't enough to overcome the defensive lapses against Georgia and LSU (a 33-30 loss in overtime).
Petrino knew that would have to change if Arkansas wanted to contend with West Division rivals Alabama and LSU, which have combined with Florida to give the SEC an unprecedented streak of four straight national championships.
The Razorbacks got a boost in the secondary with the return of cornerback Isaac Madison, who missed last season with a knee injury. Seven other starters are back from a year ago, all of them with a chip on their shoulders and determined ''to make a statement,'' in the words of defensive end Jake Bequette.
This will be their first major test.
Georgia might not be at full strength - star receiver A.J. Green is serving a four-game suspension for selling a bowl jersey - but this will definitely be a step up in competition, especially playing in front of more than 90,000 hostile fans.
''Defensively, they've taken a lot of grief from a year ago, but they've had a fantastic start as a group,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said. ''The bottom line is they are a team that believes they can challenge for the Western Division title, and have very good reason to believe that.''
Eager to avoid another SEC loss after dropping its conference opener to South Carolina, Georgia is hoping to have its most dynamic player back on the field against Arkansas. An NCAA committee was scheduled to hear Green's appeal of the suspension and could rule that missing the first two games was enough punishment.
With or without Green, the Bulldogs don't expect to move the ball as easily as they did a year ago, and they certainly can't count on Arkansas losing one of its top defensive players. In the last meeting, middle linebacker Jerry Franklin was called for two personal fouls and ejected in the first half.
''They're a very a dangerous team,'' tight end Aaron White said. ''They're hungry on defense. They're out to prove to people that they were wrong with some of the stuff they said about them last year.''
They aren't the only ones. Georgia's defense is smarting from last week's 17-6 loss to South Carolina, which manhandled the Bulldogs' new 3-4 defense. The Gamecocks piled up 189 yards on the ground, pretty much shutting down the passing game (only 17 throws) once they realize there was no stopping their running attack.
''We looked like a soft defense,'' Georgia cornerback Vance Cuff said. ''That's definitely not us. This is our chance to show the nation against a good team that we really have a good defense.''
Associated Press freelance writer Kurt Voigt contributed to this report.