Why Georgia-Arkansas is More Intriguing than Tennessee-Florida

Almost all the attention in the SEC this week has been fixated on Tennessee at Florida, for good reason. It's the most compelling game with the most interesting subplots, and there are more than a few fans of other teams who would normally love to see the Gators go down to defeat who are instead hoping Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow decide to go for triple digits against Boy Wonder.

But for my money, the most intriguing game of the weekend might be Georgia at Arkansas -- in part because it will be Arkansas' first real opponent and in part because it might help us untangle this.

GEORGIA vs. OKLAHOMA STATE   HOUSTON vs. OKLAHOMA STATE
OFFENSE   DEFENSE   OFFENSE   DEFENSE
First Downs 16   First Downs 17   First Downs 32   First Downs 27
Rushing 95   Rushing 172   Rushing 146   Rushing 194
Average 3.2   Average 3.7   Average 4.1   Average 4.7
Passing 162   Passing 135   Passing 366   Passing 240
Average 5.4   Average 6.1   Average 8.0   Average 7.7
TOTAL 257   TOTAL 307   TOTAL 512   TOTAL 434
                     
GEORGIA vs. SOUTH CAROLINA   N.C. STATE vs. SOUTH CAROLINA
OFFENSE   DEFENSE   OFFENSE   DEFENSE
First Downs 16   First Downs 26   First Downs 11   First Downs 16
Rushing 107   Rushing 114   Rushing 59   Rushing 108
Average 3.7   Average 3.8   Average 1.9   Average 2.6
Passing 201   Passing 313   Passing 74   Passing 148
Average 8.4   Average 5.9   Average 3.0   Average 6.7
TOTAL 308   TOTAL 427   TOTAL 133   TOTAL 256

This is quite the bizarre group of numbers here. Georgia's defense fared roughly the same against both Oklahoma State and South Carolina on a per-play basis, but gave up 13 more points to the Gamecocks -- perceived to be a far lower-powered offense -- and allowed far more yards per rushing attempt and total yards to South Carolina than did N.C. State. And yet that same defense limited Oklahoma State to 127 fewer yards, and a yard fewer per rush and 1.6 yards fewer per pass than did Houston. (In fairness to Georgia, they also allowed 0.8 yards fewer per passing attempt to South Carolina than did N.C. State, but the Gamecock passed far more against the Dawgs than against the Wolfpack by design, so some of that is to be expected.)

Georgia struggled against a Big XII defense that couldn't keep Houston from ringing up 512 yards of offense, but ended up scoring 41 points against what is at least believed to be a solid SEC defense. The Dawgs rushed for an extra half-yard per carry and averaged a full three yards better per passing attempt against South Carolina than against the Cowboys.

That leaves us with a set of conclusions which have varying degrees of seeming to be right or wrong.

The Houston offense is better than Georgia's. This isn't that far-fetched; the Cougars have long been a high-octane team. In fact, their offense is one of the reasons that Houston was believed to be a darkhorse BCS buster before the season.

Georgia's defense, particularly against the run, is worse than N.C. State's and South Carolina's defense is worse than Oklahoma State's. This is unproven. But it's hard to believe that the Dawgs are that much worse than the Wolfpack. Whatever his yardage average might be, Stephen Garcia looked better playing Georgia than he did against N.C. State. This might be a matter of gaining game experience and confidence, in which case Georgia is fine. If not, we're still left with a massive question about the Bulldogs. The only way this conclusion works for South Carolina is if N.C. State is one of the worst offensive teams of the 21st Century, which I suppose is possible. Otherwise, something else is going on here.

South Carolina's offense is at least as good as Oklahoma State's. This just seems patently absurd. It's hard to take seriously the idea that the Cowboys could have scored just seven points -- off a turnover, no less -- against N.C. State. But the numbers are eerily similar between the Gamecocks and the Cowboys against Georgia. This could have been first-game jitters for Oklahoma State against the Dawgs -- but if you're first-game jitters come in a win against Georgia followed by a loss to Houston, that's one heck of a letdown game. This raises the troubling idea that Georgia might play to the level of its competition.

Saturday's game between the Dawgs and the Razorbacks could go a long way to telling us how good Georgia is and, by extension, how good South Carolina is. It could also give us a hint as to whether Oklahoma State is overrated and, getting even further away from the immediate results, whether Houston's new hype is justified.

I find that a little bit more interesting than just finding out how many touchdowns the Gators can score when they're pissed.

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