State of the Hogs: Third and Long

South Carolina's offense is outstanding on third down conversions. The key is avoiding third and long.

The computer can give you anything. That's the way coaches look at scouting reports now, via the CoachComm computerized video system that will sort and filter plays for specific discs.

Coordinators use this data to build their game plans. Defensive coaches put together their blitz and call list based on what they see on those video compilations and the data that meshes with their own schemes. You can see what one team did against similar calls and perhaps gain an edge in your preparation.

Willy Robinson didn't get a lot of help when he loaded the CD with the complete list of South Carolina plays on third and long. The Gamecocks had only faced third-and-10 or longer 10 times this season.

"Heck, no one gets them in third and long," said Robinson, the Arkansas defensive coordinator. "There wasn't much there. There were a few more -- 12 -- on third and 5 through third and 9, but really no one gets them in third down period. So I'm not sure what they do on third down. We don't have much video on them in third down."

That's not altogether true. The Gamecocks have faced 98 third downs this season, just four times less than the Hogs. But it's usually third-and-short. That's why Steve Spurrier's offense is converting 54 percent. The Gamecocks have been so good on third down they haven't needed any fourth-down gambles. They are two-of-two on fourth down, while the Hogs are six of 14.

Indeed, the Gamecocks don't have many lost yardage plays, the key to getting to third and short. They have a great running offense with Marcus Lattimore. That gets them one-on-one coverage with their 6-4 (or taller) wideouts because safeties are playing run.

Lattimore isn't the biggest back the Hogs have faced. He's listed at just 218, but it's the way he runs that's big. He runs behind his pads.

"You see that, the way he runs is with his pads," said Jerico Nelson, the Arkansas outside linebacker and nickel back. "He's one of the best downhill runners you are going to see."

Robinson said Spurrier won't just use Lattimore in third and short.

"He'll live with that big back on third and long, from what we've seen," Robinson said. "They like him in most windows. They do a good job (on) early (downs) with him on screens. That's another way they get him the ball."

Robinson was asked if the Hogs could sub for Nelson with a bigger linebacker, perhaps 240-pound Freddy Burton.

"There are times that we would like to sub, but a lot of offenses are no-huddle, hurry-up," Robinson said. "You might like to get a bigger player, but the way some of these teams play won't allow for you to sub in different packages. We've been playing our base a lot."

Or, better put, the Hogs' base is a nickel.

The South Carolina scheme is built around communication from the sideline to take advantage of looks in the defense. Head coach Steve Spurrier makes a lot of the calls on eye contact with his quarterback, Stephen Garcia.

"It's the adjustments they make from play to play as to what you are doing that's the key to it all," Robinson said. "They are going to try to make calls after you line up. So what we have to do is disguise it and mix our coverages. That's the beauty of what they do. They do a lot from the sideline to the field."

The game may come down to protection. Carolina has 30 sacks and has given up 20. The Arkansas defense has 24 sacks and the Hogs have allowed 15.

There are other interesting numbers to ponder. Both teams have been good at converting field goals. Carolina is perfect on all eight field goal tries. Arkansas has missed only one in nine attempts.

Arkansas encountered futility in the fourth quarter in losses to Alabama and Auburn and trails in the fourth quarter, 60-73, on the season. Carolina isn't much better in the last quarter, 45-55. The best quarter for the Hogs is the second when they explode. They have won the second, 94-30. The Hogs might need to do well in the second, because Carolina wins the first, 70-19.

It may just come down to someone making a key second-half play. Casey Dick had a back open on a dump, maybe for a touchdown, at Columbia two years ago. A defensive end intercepted and romped the other way for the deciding play. Stephen Garcia thought he had a mismatch in the end zone on the key second-half play last year, but Jerell Norton soared for an interception. The Hogs soon turned the game into a romp.

That's one thing the Hogs have not seemed to have of late. They have not made a lot of plays with their cornerbacks this season. Someone in the Arkansas secondary is going to draw big, long Alshon Jeffery, the wideout who destroyed Alabama earlier this season. They probably won't get much help from their safeties.

"Our cornerbacks are just going to have to hold on," Nelson said. "He's a load."

The best answer for that might be Nelson getting to Garcia -- if the Hogs can get the Gamecocks into third and long.

Jerico Nelson makes a play against South Carolina in 2009.

Photo by Marc F. Henning

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