The Arkansas Razorbacks are capable of upsetting South Carolina on Saturday.
The Razorbacks have struggled this season and had some bad luck in the closing minutes of several games, but they have put in some performances this season that should provide some hope for Razorback Nation.
Here are five keys to the Razorbacks leaving Columbia, SC with a win.
In the seven full games that Tyler Wilson has played this season, he has averaged 332 passing yards per game. South Carolina has only allowed an SEC opponent to pass over 200 yards in one game this season, its close call last week against Tennessee. The Volunteers passed for a total of 381 yards in that game.
Tennessee is also the only SEC team this season to put up more passing yards in its game with South Carolina. The Gamecocks had more passing yards than LSU and Florida in those losses.
While Wilson passing for more than 300 yards does not guarantee a win (he passed for over 300 yards in the games against Texas A&M and Rutgers), it will allow the Razorbacks to keep the game competitive. If Arkansas is going to upset South Carolina, it will need Wilson be put in the same consistent play he has all season.
But there are two issues the Hogs will need to address.
The first is Wilson’s lack of passing options this season. Tennessee utilized eight receivers in its game against South Carolina. Wilson will have to have targets other than wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and running back Dennis Johnson. His other favorite target, tight end Chris Gragg, is questionable for Saturday’s game.
The other issue is South Carolina’s passing defense. The Gamecocks are currently ranked No. 27 in passing defense, the highest-rated passing defense the Hogs have faced since their loss to Alabama.
Part of the reason the Gamecocks have such a great passing defense is defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The 6'6", 256-pound sophomore is currently tied for ninth in sacks in the FBS.
Clowney was a key player in the game against Tennessee when he sacked quarterback Tyler Bray and forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter with the Volunteers in the red zone. Without that play, Tennessee could have very well upset South Carolina.
Arkansas’ offensive line will have its work cut out for it. It has not been the best about protecting the quarterback this season. And Clowney will be out to add a few more sacks to his tally.
If the Razorbacks’ offensive line can keep Clowney away from Wilson, he will be able to make passes and avoid throwing the interceptions that have proven costly to Arkansas this season.
Dennis Johnson has averaged 135 rushing yards since being designated Arkansas’ primary ball-carrier. There is no reason that trend should not continue against South Carolina.
The Gamecocks have a superior passing defense to Arkansas, but their rushing defense is comparable to the Hogs’. South Carolina is ranked fourth in the SEC in rushing defense while Arkansas is fifth. The Hogs allow 16.8 more yards a game rushing than the Gamecocks.
South Carolina has been outrushed twice this season against SEC opponents, the losses to LSU and Florida.
If Johnson can continue his streak of 100-plus-yards a game, Arkansas will have a chance to outrush the Gamecocks and win the ballgame.
The Hogs are capable of stopping the run almost as well as the Gamecocks.
South Carolina has the disadvantage of going to Saturday’s game without team rushing leader Marcus Lattimore, whose season ended after an unfortunate leg injury during the game against Tennessee.
But the Gamecocks still have freshman running back Mike Davis who is averaging 6.5 yards a carry. They also have quarterback Connor Shaw who picked up some of the slack in South Carolina’s running game after Lattimore was injured last season.
It will not be easy, but Arkansas is statistically capable of holding South Carolina to no more than 100 rushing yards. Ole Miss ranks higher than South Carolina in rushing offense in the SEC, and the Hogs held the Rebels to 77 yards.
If the Hogs can repeat that performance and shut down South Carolina’s run game, they have a good chance of pulling off an upset.
Of South Carolina’s 2048 total yards against SEC opponents this season, 61 percent has come from passing.
The Gamecocks have only had more than 200 passing yards in two games this season against SEC competition, the games against Tennessee and Mizzou. That is far less passing yards than Tyler Wilson’s average of 332.
The Gamecocks will be looking to exploit Arkansas’ weakness when it comes to defending the pass. The Hogs rank next to last in the SEC in passing defense above Tennessee.
They also will be looking to compensate for the absence of Marcus Lattimore.
Injuries have already taken their toll on the Arkansas defense. An arrest this week does not help either.
Ole Miss ranks higher in the SEC than South Carolina in passing offense. Arkansas held the Rebels to 278 passing yards.
If Arkansas’ passing defense can stop just a few key passing plays against South Carolina, it will be more than able to defeat its first ranked opponent this season.