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September 16, 2010

Week 3 preview in the SEC

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-10 | Others

Arkansas at Georgia, noon
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss, 12:20 p.m.
Alabama at Duke, 3:30 p.m.
Florida at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m.
Clemson at Auburn, 7 p.m.
Mississippi State at LSU, 7 p.m.
Akron at Kentucky, 7 p.m.
Furman at South Carolina, 7 p.m.

Saturday's Arkansas-Georgia game is big. If you don't believe it, just listen to Bulldogs coach Mark Richt.

"We have a very big game this week," he told reporters earlier this week. "I don't know how big a game can get, but this is big. We know that, our coaches know it, our players know it, I think the Bulldog Nation knows it.

"It's big."

Indeed it is. It's big for Arkansas because this is the kind of game the Razorbacks -- 9-15 in league play the past three seasons -- have to win for people to take them seriously in the league race. It's big for Georgia because a loss would drop the Bulldogs to 0-2 in league play, with games still remaining against Auburn and Florida, among others.

Georgia won 51-42 last season in one of the more entertaining league games of 2009, and that made Richt 5-0 in his career against Arkansas.

The Hogs have opened 2-0 and have outscored their first two foes 75-10. But the opponents were FCS member Tennessee Tech and the Sun Belt's Louisiana-Monroe. The game with Georgia begins a difficult four-game stretch for the Hogs, who play Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn in their next three games.

"We are where we wanted to be after the first two games of the year, as far as the record goes," Petrino told reporters. "We certainly have a lot of work ahead."

One thing the Hogs definitely need to work on is limiting turnovers. They committed three in each of their first two games, and while the opponents in those games didn't make the Hogs pay for their mistakes, it's likely that Georgia can. Arkansas also has committed 15 penalties, second-most in the league.

While Arkansas has an established quarterback in junior Heisman contender Ryan Mallett, the Bulldogs' starter is redshirt freshman Aaron Murray, who has been steady but unspectacular in his first two starts.

The big problem for the Bulldogs has been the lack of production from their rushing attack; they average 122.5 yards per game, which ranks 89th nationally. That's a surprisingly low number given the return of all five offensive line starters. The return of TB Caleb King could help in that regard; he missed last week's loss to South Carolina with an injured ankle.

Georgia seems likely to again be without star WR A.J. Green, who has been suspended for four games by the NCAA. Georgia has appealed the suspension, and if the appeal is successful, the suspension could be lifted Thursday or Friday.

Georgia is trying to avoid its first 1-2 start since 1996, Jim Donnan's first season as coach. Arkansas is looking to go 3-0 for the first time since 2003.

Best matchup: Auburn offensive line vs. Clemson defensive line. This is team strength vs. team strength. Auburn can't afford to be one-dimensional against Clemson, which is better defensively than it is offensively; that means Auburn needs to move the ball on the ground -- and needs to move the ball on the ground with guys other than just QB Cameron Newton. Clemson likely will have star DT Jarvis Jenkins in the lineup; he missed last week's "game" against Presbyterian with a slight knee injury. He is a big-timer against the run, and Auburn C Ryan Pugh and G Mike Berry need to make it a priority to get him out of the way. Clemson DEs Da'Quan Bowers and Andre Branch are good pass rushers, so Auburn Ts Lee Ziemba and A.J. Greene will be on the spot.

Player on the spot: Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett. Mallett has thrown for 701 yards and six touchdowns and completed 73.1 percent of his attempts; he leads the league in all three categories. But those numbers were put up against FCS member Tennessee Tech and the Sun Belt Conference's Louisiana-Monroe. This week, the competition increases -- presumably. We say presumably because Mallett torched Georgia for a season-high 408 yards and a season-high five TDs last season. Still, the Hogs lost 51-42. Mallett told reporters earlier this week that he doesn't expect a shootout of that type again because the defenses are better. But there is no doubt that he is the key to the game for the Hogs. Arkansas cannot win if Mallett struggles.

Numbers game: There are four league games this weekend and two are inter-division affairs. Since the league split into two divisions in 1992, Georgia has the best inter-division record in the league at 36-17-1, a winning percentage of .676. Florida is No. 2 at 36-18 (.667) and Alabama and Tennessee are tied for third at 35-18-1 (.657).

What they're saying

"Being able to speak first-hand since I've been there [as a graduate assistant], it's very close to the SEC in so many ways. This is a team that has a lot of similarities to those schools that are in our league, both off the field and the venue and their fan base and things of that nature -- very similar to many schools in this league." -- Auburn coach Gene Chizik, on Clemson, which plays at Auburn on Saturday

"The reason we took him is because the guidance counselor looked me right in the eye and said this kid ... knows his weaknesses, and he is going to work his tail off. And also the speed didn't hurt, either." -- Florida coach Urban Meyer, on RB Jeff Demps, who chose Florida over Tennessee

"Our team is so indebted to the people that traveled to Vanderbilt. It is so wonderful to go into an away stadium and feel like it is like a home game." -- LSU coach Les Miles, on last week's game at Vanderbilt

"Sounds good. Joker and Bear." -- Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, on being the only UK coach in history other than Bear Bryant to start his career 2-0

"That little inside play, the NFL doesn't run that play. That's a new scheme, I guess. I'm sure they knew we'd run it. But they certainly didn't stop it much." -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, needling Georgia's defensive staff after freshman RB Marcus Lattimore ran for 182 yards on 37 carries in a win over the Bulldogs

"I appreciate his assistance, you know. But we actually knew what plays they were running, and they actually run that play in pro ball, and our offense actually runs that play, too. So we're kind of on top of our game. It was kind of an out-of-left field comment. I kind of took it more as a shot at the NFL. I really wasn't sure if it was because of his lack of success there or what. So I kind of took it more like that than anything." -- Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, on Spurrier's comment. Grantham is in his first season with the Bulldogs after being hired off the Dallas Cowboys' staff

Etc.: Alabama expects RB Mark Ingram and DE Marcell Dareus to be back in the lineup for Saturday's game at Duke. Ingram missed the first two games with a knee injury, while Dareus was suspended. South Carolina's victory over Georgia gave Spurrier 106 SEC wins, which puts him in a second-place tie with former Ole Miss coach John Vaught for most SEC victories. Former Alabama coach Bear Bryant leads with 159 SEC wins. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said this week that the Hogs spent time over the summer studying video from the Dallas Cowboys and watching Georgia's spring-game video to get an idea of how Todd Grantham and the Bulldogs will deploy their new 3-4 defense. Florida DE Justin Trattou will be trying to sack an old friend on Saturday in Knoxville. Trattou went to high school with Tennessee QB Matt Simms at Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep and also grew up in the same neighborhood. Simms' dad, NFL Hall-of-Famer Phil Simms, once coached Trattou in youth baseball. Trattou: "He was by far the best baseball coach I ever had." Ole Miss is down to its third-string right guard. Junior starter Rishaw Johnson was dismissed from the team last week, and sophomore Josh Tatum -- who replaced him in the starting lineup -- suffered an ankle injury in last week's win over Tulane. Redshirt freshman Michael Brown is expected to start in Tatum's stead Saturday against Vanderbilt. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said sophomore Chris Relf will remain the starting quarterback but that he expects to play redshirt freshman Tyler Russell at the position as well Saturday at LSU. Florida RB Jeff Demps visited the White House on Monday, when the Gators' NCAA-champion track team was honored. Demps is the reigning NCAA 100-meters champion. .. Arkansas backup RB Dennis Johnson, who is one of the best return men in the league, is out for an undisclosed amount of time after suffering a bowel injury when he fell on the ball in last week's win over Louisiana-Monroe. He needed surgery, and there is no timetable for his return. Duke coach David Cutcliffe graduated from Alabama in 1976 and worked as a graduate assistant for Bear Bryant. In his wallet, Cutcliffe carries a newspaper clipping and ticket stub from the 1981 game against Auburn when Bryant notched his then-record-setting 315th victory. Tennessee again will be without starting WR Gerald Jones, who has a broken bone in his right hand. The Vols also could be without starting C Cody Pope, who has suffered from concussion-like symptoms. Florida starting WR Chris Rainey, who suffered a slight concussion in last week's win over USF, was arrested and charged with aggravated stalking on Tuesday.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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