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Ashway: Elite Dawgs pound out old-fashioned win
Denton Ashway

It was all over so fast.

Eighth-ranked, undefeated Arkansas ventured onto Dooley Field Saturday, and Georgia treated the Hogs as if they were Commodores.

The game wasn’t even 13 minutes old, and Georgia led, 21-0. And that, as they say, was the ol’ ballgame.

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, the former Georgia offensive line coach who’s brought Arkansas a long way in a short time, shared that assessment.

“We wanted to come in and start fast,” said Pittman in his post-game remarks. “Take their crowd out of the game. And the opposite happened. They put us in a hole, and we couldn’t climb out because of their physicality…

“Guys, I don’t want to simplify this, but they just whipped us physically.”

For his part, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has challenged his players, coaching staff, and fan base with a simple declaration: “Either you’re elite, or you’re not.”

The team got an even more direct exhortation in the locker room after the South Carolina game. “We’re not practicing to beat somebody,” Smart told his team, “we’re practicing to beat everybody.”

This attitude is unfathomable to a generation that grew up listening to Vince Dooley praise everything from Vanderbilt’s kickoff coverage unit to John Fourcade’s running ability. Smart’s path is uncharted, but even Dooley himself has admitted that this might be the most talented Georgia team he’s ever seen.

But it’s all part of Smart’s Master Plan to end the “When?” question once and for all. If you’re elite, the entire program, fan base included, must be elite.

“The opening remark would be how incredible our fan base is,” said Smart after Saturday’s game. “They answered the bell today. The first series for Arkansas on offense, our crowd was extremely disruptive.

“I thought the crowd impacted the blocked punt in terms of cadence and things like that, which forced a touchdown. So, I give our crowd, the fans, at least 10 points, and that’s big.”

Pittman agreed. “You know, it’s hard to get 10 [yards] against Georgia, let alone 15, and on the first one it was 20,” Pittman said, reflecting on his team’s inability to run a play without a false start.

Georgia took the opening kickoff, and behind permanent part-time QB Stetson Bennett, rolled down the field for a touchdown: 75 yards, 9 plays, 4:14. Bennett was 2 of 3 for 21 yards.

Then the real fun began. With the Georgia crowd roaring, Arkansas went backwards 14 yards.

Georgia took over near midfield. This touchdown drive, also nine plays, went 56 yards and lasted 4:46. Bennett threw once, to Kenny McIntosh, for 27 yards.

Arkansas muffed the kickoff, began at its own 7-yard line, ran three plays, plus one with an ineligible receiver downfield, and attempted to punt. Walk-on Dan Jackson blocked the kick, and Zamir White — yes, the starting tailback — recovered the ball in the end zone.

Georgia led, 21-0. Arkansas had amassed a single yard.

Oh, and all that Dooleyesque running? That was by design, with Arkansas featuring a 3-2-6 defensive alignment. “It’s a scheme,” said Smart. “It’s not a reinvigorated run game as much as it is you take what they give you.”

The early three-touchdown lead enabled Georgia to follow that game plan with Dogged, Dooleyesque determination. Bennett would throw only 11 times for 72 yards. Georgia ran 57 times for 273 yards and held the ball for more than 36 minutes.

Arkansas? The team that came in averaging 480 yards and 35.8 points registered 162 (60 of which came during a final, futile attempt to score as time ran out) and zero. Pittman again: “They were just rolling us out there on both sides of the line of scrimmage.”

For you Georgia history buffs, this was the third time Georgia shut out a top-10 team. The first was 34-0 over second-ranked Georgia Tech in 1942. The other was the epic 21-0 victory over Alabama in 1976.

And the last time Georgia shut out SEC foes in succession? Well, that occurred in another memorable season.