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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman roams the sidelines during Satur- day’s game, his first as head coach of the Razorbacks.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo) ( Charlie Kaijo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The rejuvenated Arkansas Razorbacks dared to dream of a shocking upset of No. 4 Georgia on Saturday, but only for one half in Saturday's season opener at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Sparked by backup quarterback Stetson Bennett and its mighty defense and special teams, Georgia rattled off 32 consecutive points in the second half to thump the University of Arkansas 37-10 before a crowd of 16,500 that was limited by covid-19 rules in the debut of Coach Sam Pittman.

A long succession of Georgia players and coaches lined up to greet Pittman, a four-year Georgia assistant, at the game's end.

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The Razorbacks (0-1) scored first on Feleipe Franks' 49-yard touchdown pass to Treylon Burks and played stout, opportunistic defense throughout the first half to lead 7-5 at intermission.

The Bulldogs, who picked off three passes, drove 57 yards for a go-ahead touchdown midway through the third quarter, then blocked a punt that led to a touchdown and cashed in on All-American Richard LeCounte's pick-six in a 33-second span to pull away.

"We talked to them after the game about where we were at half against the No. 4 team in the country and what we have to do to end the game," Pittman said. "We're in the win business, so that's what we want to do.

"We have to learn from these type of situations. One of them is you can't turn the ball over three times against the team that's No. 4. You can't do it."

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Georgia Coach Kirby Smart said he felt like he was watching an extra-inning baseball game in the sluggish first half, which lasted nearly two hours.

"It was really sloppy in the first half," Smart said. "It went forever, and we weren't scoring any points, that's for certain.

"I am proud we were very resilient in the second half. Our special teams played really well. I give a lot of credit to Arkansas' defense. They caused us some problems. We've got to improve and get better."

Franks completed 19 of 36 passes for 200 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions in his Arkansas debut. Burks caught a career-high seven passes for 102 yards.

"Offensively, I thought we could have played more consistent," Franks said. "At the same time, those interceptions, we had a miscommunication ... and those things happen.

"The only way I know to get better is to just keep working and keep getting after it. And that's what we're going to do."

Georgia snuffed out the Arkansas running game and ace tailback Rakeem Boyd by dominating the line of scrimmage. Boyd never found a crease and finished with 21 yards on 11 carries.

"Rakeem, it was tough sledding in there," Pittman said. "He was going to have to make his own for the most part today. We couldn't move those guys. It wasn't that they were playing any kind of special defense. They were just playing their gap, and they were hard to move."

A sequence late in the first half proved costly for the Razorbacks. A.J. Reed had a chance to drive a 55-yard field goal through the uprights with just over one minute remaining for a 10-2 Arkansas lead, but the Razorbacks were flagged for a delay of game on the play and had to punt.

Bennett drove the Bulldogs 59 yards, sparked by a 26-yard strike to 6-7 tight end Darnell Washington, and kicker Jack Podlesny made a 38-yard field goal on the final play of the half after Pittman called two timeouts.

The Bulldogs had but 48 rushing yards in the first half and limited Arkansas to 30.

"As linebackers, as a D-line, we were pushing the line of scrimmage," Arkansas linebacker Grant Morgan said. "They weren't getting anything pushing into us.

"We stopped the run, and that's what they're really good at. When we did that, they had to find other ways. When they put that other quarterback [Bennett] in, he's a good quarterback and he'd move on his feet well."

Bennett completed 20 of 29 passes for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions. Georgia starter D'Wan Mathis went 8 of 17 for 55 yards with 1 interception.

The Razorbacks marched 91 yards on their second possession of the game.

On a third-and-6 pass play, Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes tripped Tyson Morris for pass interference at the Arkansas 25. On a third and 7, Franks found De'Vion Warren on a crossing route, and the swift senior eluded a tackler and got to the right edge for a 28-yard gain.

A false start penalty sent Arkansas back to the Georgia 49, but Arkansas fans thought they got that yardage back on the next snap when an official threw a flag on a deep ball for T.J. Hammonds with Stokes in coverage and making contact down the left sideline. However, after a brief discussion, the officiating crew picked up the flag.

On the next snap, Franks dodged a rusher, leaked out left and found Burks beyond LeCounte on the 22. Burks made the catch, skirted the left sideline and ran it in for his first collegiate touchdown and a 7-0 Arkansas lead.

The rest of the first half featured plenty of penalties, most of them against the Bulldogs, and a lot of tough fourth-down decisions.

Bennett replaced Mathis at quarterback in the second quarter, and the Bulldogs converted a fourth-and-2 play from the Arkansas 39 on Bennett's 6-yard keeper.

Moments later, facing fourth and 1 from the Hogs' 24, Smart gambled and lost. Linebackers Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool shot through the line to slow and then stop Zamir White for no gain to stone the Georgia drive.

Arkansas started series at its 9, 10, 7, 5 and 1 in succession in the first half, while Georgia kept driving into Razorback territory and stalling or committing a turnover.

After a 38-yard interception return by LeCounte, the Bulldogs set up shop at the Arkansas 15. But on third down, Mathis felt pressure, threw wide of his target, and Montaric Brown made a diving interception at the 5.

Safety Jalen Catalon stripped a ball from Georgia tailback James Cook on Georgia's opening possession of the second half, and safety Myles Slusher recovered.

Mike Woods had two catches for 26 yards on the ensuing possession as Arkansas reached the Georgia 3. But the drive stalled out and Reed kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 10-5.

"First half, we caught them off guard with how fast and how well we were getting to the ball, but I think at the end of the day they just made the plays they needed and they had good field position to make the plays they needed to win the game," Catalon said. "Our coaches coach us like we're the best defense in the country. They don't want us on the defense if we don't believe we can be the best. In the first half, it showed that."

Georgia began its comeback at that point by controlling the lines of scrimmage.

"They wore us down in the second half on the defensive line," Pittman said. "But obviously we gave up the ball three times and had a blocked punt and interception for a touchdown that really turned the momentum of the game. But I was really proud of our defense."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated Arkansas' A.J. Reed made a field goal near the end of the first half. The kick appeared good from inside the stadium, but TV replays appeared to show Reed's kick was wide left. The officials on the field never signaled because of a pre-snap penalty.


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