The first thing about Georgia’s third game of this young season, against Arkansas State at high noon Saturday at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium, I don’t see the Bulldogs beating the Red Wolves as badly as they did FCS Murray State last weekend.
That’s because Arkansas State, 1-1 after a close 37-30 loss to SMU and a 43-17 romp over UNLV, is a much more formidable football team than were the Racers, who were routed by the 3rd-ranked Dawgs 63-17 on a scorching afternoon that saw the field being named after former legendary UGA coach and athletic director, Vince Dooley.
Yes, the Red Wolves of Coach Blake Anderson will be bringing a number of offensive weapons between the hedges Saturday, especially in their wide receiver corps featuring speedy and sure-handed players like Omar Bayless, Kirk Merritt, Brandon Bowling, Dahu Green, and Jonathan Adams. Merritt is a transfer from Oregon and Green left the Oklahoma program for Arkansas State. And getting the ball to those talented wideouts will be redshirt junior quarterback Logan Bonner, who passed for 324 yards against SMU and then came back with 284 yards through the air in the win over UNLV.
So, certainly, the Georgia secondary will need to be on high alert Saturday when the Red Wolves go on the attack.
And there are several other factors coming into play that will maybe not turn this game into the cakewalk most in Bulldawg Nation are expecting it to be.
For one, Arkansas State will hardly be intimidated by all those folks in red — the 92,000-plus (if the early start and another hot day doesn’t slim the turnout) that normally fill the mammoth stadium. That’s because in recent years the Red Wolves have encountered the big boys of college football on a regular basis. Arkansas State has had games at Alabama, Auburn, Southern Cal, Miami, and Missouri. The Wolves go to Ann Arbor to play Michigan next season and then will travel to play the Washington Huskies in 2021.
So this team isn’t going to have any pre-game jitters when it lines up against the Bulldogs Saturday. Arkansas State, being a 31-point underdog, doesn’t have anything to lose going against mighty Georgia and will be playing loose and with nothing but a positive mindset that it can indeed pull off the upset of the Bulldogs.
And then, there is the Notre Dame factor hanging squarely over this game. Kirby Smart and the players themselves can say all they want they’re not thinking about the 7th-ranked Fighting Irish coming to town the following weekend but, how can they not have Notre Dame on their minds when the Bulldogs-Irish return engagement is all the Georgia fans have talked about for nearly two years now … ever since the Bulldogs escaped South Bend, Ind. with a 21-19 win over the Irish on Sept. 9, 2017?
Indeed, although Smart drills into his team the idea of simply playing up to the Bulldogs’ own standard each and every week, and not be concerned with whom the next opponent is, Georgia’s players — like the fan base — have to be looking ahead to some extent to Notre Dame’s first-ever trip to Athens, Ga.
And I don’t have to tell you that can be a dangerous proposition for any football team. This day and time, if you’re not on your A-game, both mentally and physically, execution-wise, your team will join the upset list that we now see each Saturday in college football. Don’t believe it …ask the Tennessee Vols about their season opener against little Georgia State or ask a heavily-favored Missouri team about going under to Wyoming in their first game. Then how about a favored South Carolina team being upended in Game 1 by a North Carolina team that won all of two games last season?
All of this is not to say Georgia is going to lose to Arkansas State on Saturday. I think Smart and his adept coaching staff will have the Bulldogs, with their huge talent advantage over the Red Wolves, ready to take care of business and win the game convincingly, thereby taking a perfect 3-0 worksheet against the Irish on Sept. 21.
What I am saying is because of the different aspects that can come into play in a game such as this — several of which I’ve mentioned above — don’t be surprised if Georgia-Arkansas State turns out to be a much closer affair than that 31-point spread which has been forecast.
Notice I alluded to the potential explosiveness of the Arkansas State passing attack, with their plethora of dangerous receivers, but I didn’t say anything about the strength of the Red Wolves’ defensive unit. That’s because that group is the Achilles’ heel of ASU … a defense that will simply be unable to handle the Bulldogs’ huge offensive line, Georgia’s powerful tailback corps, or quarterback Jake Fromm and the Bulldogs’ fast-emerging receiving group.
That’s why Georgia will escape from any potential pitfalls in this game and power past a pack of Wolves by about a 41-21 tally. And then we can all think about the Notre Dame Fighting Irish!