South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Arkansas Razorbacks: Complete Game Preview
Part of football is putting the last game behind you. Whether that is getting over a bad loss or a thrilling victory, the most important game is always the next one.
The Arkansas Razorbacks return home to the friendly confines of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium after a sloppy 30-10 loss to the Florida Gators in the Swamp. It's even more important to get over a disappointing outing when you're in the SEC, something head coach Bret Bielema must get his Hogs to do when the South Carolina Gamecocks coming to Fayetteville.
The Gamecocks are coming off an uninspiring 35-28 win over Kentucky. Star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney made headlines again, telling head coach Steve Spurrier before the game that his ribs were too sore to play.
His status for Saturday remains questionable and if he's not able to play, it may have a big impact on the game.
Here's an in-depth look at the keys to an Arkansas victory and the players to keep an eye on, as well as which team we'll ultimately come out on top.
Time: 12:21 p.m. ET
Place: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Arkansas Razorbacks Radio Network and Gamecock Radio Network
Spread: South Carolina by six according to VegasInsider.com
Arkansas' Keys to Victory
See Signs of Life From Secondary
The last three games have been rough, and last week's performance at Florida should be embarrassing for the unit.
The secondary gave up 240 yards passing to Gators' quarterback Tyler Murphy, who, before being forced to play after Jeff Driskel was lost for the season, had made just one start and never completed a pass at the collegiate level. In fact, Murphy was primarily used as the scout team quarterback. But he had no problem against the Hogs secondary, completing 16-of-22 passes for three touchdowns and no picks.
The unit will once again have a big task, this time with Connor Shaw. He's been efficient all season, passing for seven touchdowns and zero interceptions to go along with 927 yards. He's also a threat to run it, ranking second on the team with 282 yards.
It hurts losing Will Hines, most likely for the remainder of the season with a broken arm, but South Carolina won't have sympathy. The secondary needs to have guys step up and make plays, or it will be in for another long day.
Protect Brandon Allen
Though there's been some negative publicity around Clowney, if he plays, he'll remain a prime threat to create chaos in the backfield. That is a big if, though.
If Clowney isn't able to go, the Razorbacks offensive line's task will still be tough, though much less stressful. It still would have to deal with defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and end Chaz Sutton. Quarles leads the team with four sacks and five tackles for loss, while Sutton has recorded two sacks and 4.5 TFL.
The Gamecocks are tied for 21st in the nation with 2.80 sacks per game. The Hogs are tied for 16th in sacks allowed a game at 0.83. Something has to give, and for a struggling quarterback, Brandon Allen will need time in the pocket to find his receivers.
Return to Basics
The Razorbacks fell behind early in the third quarter against Florida by 17, and while it did call for more passing plays, nearly a full half is plenty of time to come back from that deficit and still run the ball. There was a 14-play disparity between the number of running (29) and passing (43) plays called.
Arkansas had some success against a stout Gators' rush defense in the first half on 20 attempts, but fell behind. As stated, it's understandable that the Hogs began throwing more in the second half because of the scoreboard, but running the ball just nine times? It put a ton of pressure on Allen to make throws and he struggled mightily, completing just 41.9 percent of his passes.
This isn't an offense built for the air-raid attack. There are two All-SEC caliber backs in the backfield in freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams.
Though they both had modest games last week, both averaged four yards or more a carry, which is good considering the Gators were giving up less than three yards per rush. Collins is ninth in the FBS with 651 yards on the ground through six games and has been one of the best backs in the country. Williams has been no slouch, ranking 25th with 503 yards to his credit.
This is a running team, so Arkansas needs to get back to their roots and give Collins and Williams the ball against South Carolina.
South Carolina's Keys to Victory
Attack Hogs' Secondary
Connor Shaw should be salivating at the opportunity he has before him against a reeling Razorback secondary. Arkansas allowed 421 total passing yards in its first three games, but in the last three, it doubled that number to 847.
The rise in competition hasn't been kind to the Hogs. The secondary has shown no ability to stop the passing game against good teams. Shaw isn't incredible, but he's efficient and hasn't been making mistakes to hurt his team's chances of winning. He had a good outing last weekend versus Kentucky, going 17-of-20 (80 percent) for 262 yards and a touchdown.
Until Arkansas proves to Spurrier and the Gamecocks it can defend the pass, South Carolina will want to test the Hogs secondary often.
Win the Line of Scrimmage
South Carolina, even without Clowney, has one of the best D-lines in the SEC. Rutgers and Florida disrupted the Arkansas offense by slowing down the Razorbacks duo of Collins and Williams and putting an onus on Allen and AJ Derby to make plays with their arms.
They failed to do that effectively, combining for 31-of-69 (44.9 percent) and passing with one touchdown and an interception. If South Carolina can limit the yards of Collins and Williams and get to Allen, it can bring the entire offense to a screeching halt.
Offensively, the line opening up holes for Mike Davis (12th in FBS with 614 rushing yards) would make a sinking Razorbacks' secondary full on Swiss cheese.
Score Early and Often
This is a big key for any team playing on the road, and it's even bigger when the opposing team has a run-oriented offense.
Anytime you can score early on the road, it is a big boost of confidence and maybe more importantly, it deflates the opposing crowd. Against run-first teams like the Razorbacks, if you can score early and build a lead, it forces them to pass.
Florida did it to near perfection and took the Hogs completely out of their game plan. Expect the Gamecocks to take a similar approach.
Arkansas Players to Watch
Allen's struggles boil down to his inaccuracy. It's that simple.
Granted, he has had a number of balls dropped, but it's still no excuse for a 49.6 completion percentage. Much of the time, Allen appears to be forcing throws to guys that are covered. His confidence just doesn't seem to be there right now.
He can try to regain confidence against a South Carolina pass defense that ranks 72nd in the country, giving up 237.2 YPG. He's developing good chemistry with tight end Hunter Henry and has the arm to be an SEC quarterback, but has to improve his accuracy.
The best freshman in the SEC thus far was held to 54 yards on 13 carries at Florida, but had another 45 yards receiving on five receptions. The Gators defense is in the top three in the country in rushing YPG allowed and, after all, he's just a freshman, so some off games against good teams are to be expected.
Collins, however, has yet to have back-to-back games under 100 yards. If Clowney is out, you can fully expect the Hogs to run to the side he would've been holding down.
Collins will have another tough defensive front to deal with, but should have more opportunities to make plays.
You can't just pick out one guy you'll want to keep an eye on in the secondary, so watch the whole unit. As mentioned earlier, the past three games, teams have had their way through the air.
The Razorbacks have to make some major adjustments for this weekend. What makes it even more frustrating is that there is talent in the secondary. They just aren't playing up to it.
Shaw isn't a prolific passer and the Gamecocks, much like Arkansas, don't have a dominant receiver. This will be the unit's best chance to make major improvements before the big trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala.
South Carolina Players to Watch
Quarles, at 6'4", 248 pounds, is a mammoth of a man anchoring the middle of the D-line for the Gamecocks. Normally, defensive tackles are the ones clogging the middle, not wreaking havoc on the quarterback.
But he's not a normal kind of guy.
Quarles has a rare blend of size and speed that makes him a nightmare for quarterbacks. He is South Carolina's leader in sacks and TFL, and a big part of their stout rush defense.
He will be one of the main concerns for the Arkansas O-line.
The Arkansas D-line has been a bright spot so far. It held a Florida rush attack averaging over 200 YPG to 115 yards. Davis provides yet another big challenge for the defense.
He's right on the heels of Collins in total yards, but has more than doubled his touchdowns (three) with eight of his own, which is tied for fifth in the FBS. Davis is averaging 6.7 YPC, and his 5'9" height makes it hard for defenders get square hits on him or even find him behind a big offensive line.
If South Carolina runs the ball successfully, it could spell trouble for the Arkansas secondary.
Shaw's not making mistakes and that's the big thing. Shaw has a rating of 173.9, largely due to completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and having no interceptions to seven touchdowns.
The Hogs have had trouble stopping dual-threat quarterbacks in the past, and Shaw is more than capable of tucking it and running. He's the unquestioned leader of the Gamecocks and has a 19-4 record as a starter.
He is climbing the ranks in the program's record books and could cause a lot of problems for the Razorbacks defense.
What They're Saying
With Hines likely out for the remainder of the season, Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com said Jared Collins and Carroll Washington are vying for playing time at the spot:
With Will Hines out at cornerback, Arkansas returns two players in the secondary with significant experience, a unit that has struggled at times this year regardless of experience. Last weekend they gave up 240 yards and three touchdowns to a quarterback making his second start. He was 16 of 22, also (72.7 percent). Collins, a redshirt freshman, and junior college transfer Carroll Washington are battling for playing time at the spot...Collins came out of the spring as the starter ahead of Hines but gave way to him during fall camp. Collins has made seven tackles in five games this season, and Washington has made three stops in six games with a pass breakup.
Though Allen struggled last weekend, the O-line didn't do a great job keeping defender's at bay. Brey Cook told HawgSports.com that a lot of it had to do with the line's inability to communicate:
The biggest thing for us was communication. Going out there in a loud environment, having a different center come in just and adjusting to him and with the freshmen at guard just really communicating. I feel once we all know what we're doing and where we're going we're fine. That was our biggest issue last week, and one we've really taken ahold of and tried to improve.
The Hogs were ravaged with injuries at Florida, but Biddy reported that Henry and All-SEC center Travis Swanson are both practicing. He also noted that the Hogs will have a much better chance of success on the ground Saturday:
Where can Arkansas capitalize against South Carolina? -Judging by statistics, the Gamecocks give up 25.8 points per game to rank 10th in the conference, compared to 12.2 for Florida. The Gamecocks are strong against the run but have given up twice as many yards as Florida, and Arkansas butters its bread with the run. USC is giving up 237.2 passing yards per game and the Gamecocks are last in the SEC with by surrendering an efficiency rating of 148.7 to opposing QBs.
South Carolina running backs coach Everette Sands told GamecockCentral.com's Scott Hood that Davis is gaining confidence:
One thing's for sure, he's definitely gotten a lot more confident. He might have surprised himself with that first big run (75-yarder against North Carolina), but now he's expecting to have those big runs. I truly believe if you expect to have more, you're going to get more. He's running hard. He knows he can make somebody miss. He knows he can run through them if he needs to. He's doing a good job right now.
ESPN.com reported Clowney practiced Wednesday, a good sign for Spurrier and the Gamecocks:
Injured South Carolina All-American Jadeveon Clowney was back at practice Wednesday, although it is still uncertain whether he will play this weekend at Arkansas. Clowney has a strained muscle near his rib cage that he hurt last week. He missed practice Monday and Tuesday with the injury. However, he worked out for all of the 2½-hour session Wednesday and participated in sprints at the end of workouts with teammates.
Arkansas is always tough at home, but South Carolina is simply the better team.
Expect the Hogs to have a lot better day on the ground, but ultimately, Allen won't be able to do enough to bring home the upset for the Razorbacks.
The secondary will struggle again against the veteran Shaw, and its inability to stop the pass will eventually begin to open holes for Davis. It will be a close game, but South Carolina's overall talent gets the better of Bielema's Hogs.
It wouldn't be a huge surprise if Arkansas pulled off the upset, but with the way the team's been trending, it won't perform well enough to win.
South Carolina 31, Arkansas 24