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Georgia defense bracing for ‘way more physical’ Razorbacks

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean doesn’t have to look at this week’s Top 25 poll to know the Bulldogs are about to play a much improved Arkansas team.

Dean can see the changes in the way No. 8 Arkansas plays, making the Razorbacks a challenge in Saturday’s visit to No. 2 Georgia.

“They are not the same Arkansas team that we faced,” Dean said Monday, referring to Georgia’s 37-10 win over the Razorbacks to open the 2020 season.

“They are way more physical. That’s the game that we at Georgia look for. … We pride ourselves on our toughness and physicality, so I’m sure everybody on the team will be excited for a game like this. I know I am.”

Last season’s opening win was the debut of Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, the former Georgia offensive line coach. Pittman has orchestrated a dramatic turnaround.

The Razorbacks gained respect with last week’s 20-10 win over No. 7 Texas A&M. The No. 8 ranking is the highest for Arkansas since early in the 2012 season.

The Razorbacks (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) are averaging 35.8 points, posing perhaps the toughest challenge yet for Georgia’s stout defense.

The defense scored the only touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 10-3 shutdown of then-No. 3 Clemson to open the season. The score came on a 74-yard interception return by Christopher Smith.

The Bulldogs lead the nation by allowing only 5.8 points per game, allowing Georgia (4-0, 2-0) to overcome injuries to quarterback JT Daniels and at wide receiver. The visit from Arkansas is an important — if unexpected — midseason test in the SEC.

Pittman said the success of the Bulldogs’ defense begins with Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Jalen Carter on the line.

“They have so much talent on their D line,” Pittman said. “Certainly they are big, physical. It starts with Davis and Carter. Nolan Smith. Walker. They are very, very talented. They rotate guys as well so they keep them fresh.”

Georgia has reloaded after having six defensive players, including four defensive backs, selected in this year’s NFL draft. Overall, nine Georgia players were taken in the draft.

“They’ve recruited really well there,” Pittman said. “And so they’re going to have depth and that’s just Georgia. Hopefully Arkansas will get that way here soon in the near future where somebody leaves and next guy steps in, he may be as good, he may be better than the guy that left. But that’s where Georgia is. And that’s a credit to their staff and Kirby for recruiting.”

Georgia, coming off a 62-0 win at Vanderbilt, has allowed only one offensive touchdown this season. Daniels started but played only the first quarter and is expected to start against Arkansas. The Bulldogs forced nine three-and-outs against the Commodores.

Dean said the defense isn’t satisfied.

“We’re not getting comfortable,” the Georgia linebacker said. “There’s no complacency going on.”

Dean has 14 tackles and two sacks as one of the leaders of the unit.

Arkansas will pose a unique challenge. Dual-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson is the SEC’s only player to throw for at least 800 yards and run for at least 200 this season. Jefferson leads FBS quarterbacks with his average of 18.4 yards per completion.

Jefferson missed much of the second half of the win over Texas A&M with a bruised knee. He returned for the final drive and was still sore on Monday, according to Pittman.

“I don’t thing it’ll be a problem for the game,” Pittman said.

Jefferson’s top target is wide receiver Treylon Burks, who had six catches for 167 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown, against the Aggies but left the field in obvious discomfort with an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter. Pittman said Burks also is expected to play Saturday.

Burks has 19 catches for 373 yards and two touchdowns and has a catch in 24 consecutive games.

“It really doesn’t feel like we’re 4-0,” Burks said. “We’re just playing our ball and having fun with it.”

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AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt contributed to this report.

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