Each Monday night during the football season, the blog will look ahead to South Carolina’s next opponent. This week, it’s Arkansas.
Let’s be honest. There are plenty of reasons South Carolina doesn’t have to take Arkansas too seriously this week.
The Razorbacks have lost three straight games, a losing streak that started at Rutgers. Last week, they allowed 30 points to an abysmal Florida offense. Their best player is a true freshman. Their coach is in his first SEC season.
For gosh sakes, even Arkansas’ wins are ugly. I’m not sure any SEC team has been more embarrassed in victory than the Hogs’ 10-point home win over Samford. Arkansas had to score two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a comeback win after trailing its FCS opponent by four points entering the final 15 minutes.
(The only victory for an SEC team that comes close? How about Arkansas’ game immediately following Samford, when it led Southern Miss by a single touchdown at halftime before winning 24-3 at home. Southern Miss, the worst team in all of FBS, has currently lost 17 straight games.)
Yet, there is one reason Arkansas demands South Carolina’s utmost attention when it travels to Fayetteville on Saturday. One reason beyond the Gamecocks’ underwhelming three-game win streak against inferior opponents. Since 1992, when these two teams began playing each other every year, USC has won only twice in Fayetteville.
Clearly, it is hard for the Gamecocks to win at Arkansas. It will be hard this weekend too, even against an opponent that’s less than impressive on paper. For South Carolina, any win in Fayetteville is a good one. Here’s a close look at the matchup.
Who: No. 14 South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC East) at Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 SEC West)
Where: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000) | Fayetteville, Ark.
When: Saturday, 12:21 p.m.
TV: SEC TV
Radio: Gamecocks Sports Network (WWIK-FM, 98.9 in Charleston) | Affiliates
Line: South Carolina -6 (Opened as South Carolina -7)
What to know about Arkansas: Arkansas is in its first season under head coach Bret Bielema, who made a name for himself taking Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowls from 2011-13. There were four SEC coaching changes during the offseason, but this one was considered something of a coup d’état. It was shocking news when Bielema left the Badgers after seven seasons, bringing his power-running philosophy to a conference built on power running … at least until the recent spread-offense movement. Don’t ask Bielema about the spread offense. He prefers something he calls “normal, American football,” less brashly known as ground and pound. So far, the results show a major difference. Arkansas was last in the SEC last season with 118.67 rushing yards per game. This season, the Hogs are fourth with an even 216 rushing yards per game.
All-time series: South Carolina trails 13-8. The Gamecocks are 2-10 in Fayetteville. On average, Arkansas has outscored USC 27.4-21.1
When they last met: South Carolina 38, Arkansas 20. Nov. 10, 2012. The Gamecocks jumped out to a 38-13 lead after three quarters, then cruised in the fourth. By then, Arkansas was a hot, steaming pile of John L. Smith. USC took full advantage. Quarterback Connor Shaw was 14-of-22 for 272 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Receiver Bruce Ellington had one of his best games, catching five passes for 104 yards including a 42-yard touchdown. Safety D.J. Swearinger added an interception returned for a 69-yard touchdown in the third quarter, the cherry on top.
Which Gamecock is crowing loudest: Connor Shaw. Nothing against Arkansas’ pass defense. The Razorbacks rank a respectable sixth in the SEC, allowing 215 yards per game. But Shaw was masterful Saturday night against Kentucky. The senior quarterback completed 17-of-20 passes for 262 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions against the Wildcats, whose pass defense ranks third in the SEC. All that with a sprained throwing shoulder? Given an extra week of rest, Shaw should be his usual, efficient self against the Hogs.
Who’s keeping South Carolina coaches up at night: Alex Collins. The Gamecocks can’t sleep on Chris Smith and Trey Flowers, the most dynamic pass-rushing tandem in the SEC with 10 sacks combined this season. (Smith is tied for league lead with six.) But Collins, the Razorbacks’ freshman running back, has had a breakout rookie season. Collins’ 651 rushing yards are most in the SEC. (USC tailback Mike Davis is considered the SEC’s rushing leader because he has more yards per game than anyone else, but, because Arkansas has played one more game than the Gamecocks, Davis has fewer total rushing yards.) Truth is, even against Smith and Flowers, USC’s offense will be fine – as always. The Gamecocks defense has to keep Collins in check, or it could be a long afternoon.
Quotable: Steve Spurrier on All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney: “He may not be able to play next week, I don’t know. But we’re not going to worry about it, I can assure you that. If he wants to play, we’ll welcome him to come play for the team — if he wants to play. If he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to play. Simple as that.”