It's definition Saturday in the SEC with No. 1 LSU versus No. 2 Alabama along with No. 7 Arkansas versus No. 9 South Carolina. It's like no November weekend the SEC has ever seen.
So much is going to be figured out by around 10 p.m. Saturday night. Consider that there are only two other teams in the SEC that have a winning record. Georgia is at 5-1, tied for first in the East with the Gamecocks. Auburn is at 4-2.
The Arkansas-Carolina game has always been big for each team since they entered the league together in 1992. If you track the series, it's been a key game in deciding the fortunes since it moved out of the September slot.
It will be huge this time around, just like it was last year when Arkansas used a 41-20 victory to begin a November run that landed the Hogs in the Sugar Bowl. The winner could end up in a BCS game this year.
The Hogs have won the last two meetings to lead the series, 12-7. Bobby Petrino reminded everyone how the Hogs did it those last two years. Some might point at an edge in turnovers. Some might say it was offensive supremecy among two coaches known for producing top scoring units. That's not what Petrino told the media.
"We have to be physical," Petrino said. "That's what we did the last two years in this game."
The Hogs won it with big plays on the edge last year, running right at Carolina's supposed strength, its defensive ends. Those end are all still at Carolina, along with the nation's top defensive end prospect, freshman Jadeveon Clowney. Petrino talked about the Carolina ends on Thursday.
"The ends are good," he said. "It's the same group, but they added the freshman. He's a very talented young man with great speed."
Specifically, Petrino said senior end Melvin Ingram is a tough matchup. Ingram, 6-2 and 276, starts on the outside but moves inside to tackle in passing situations so they can add Clowney to 6-7, 260-pound Devin Taylor on the edge.
"Ingram is active," Petrino said. "He spins, moves and is such a tough matchup for a guard when he goes inside."
The Hogs don't have the same blockers on the edge. They lost two tight ends and two offensive tackles from the group that worked over Carolina on sweeps, draws and screen passes. The Hogs were effective moving their tight ends and H-backs in formation motion and shifts against the Gamecocks in what offensive coordinator Garrick McGee called "scheming the edge" afterwards.
We'll start there this week as we break down our Top 10 List of things to watch in the Carolina-Arkansas game.
Is that a word? It's certainly a football word. That's where this one might be won or lost. The Hogs have had some ebb and flow as far as winning the hitting contest this season. There have been halves where they were the dominant team and looked like the team that many thought was third best in the SEC in preseason behind Alabama and LSU. There have also been times where they didn't have the competitive spirit. They must hit from the start this time because it might be tough to play catchup against a strong Carolina defense. The Arkansas defensive front has been up and down, perhaps because of injuries at defensive end. This could be the week that group can be the difference maker in the game. Can the inside quartet of Byran Jones, Dede Jones, Robert Thomas and Alfred Davis control the tempo? Can Jake Bequette and Trey Flowers control the edge? Carolina plays two freshmen in the offensive line, including right tackle Cody Gibson. Can the Hogs win some battles against that youth?
2. Outside running
Carolina may be as fast to the perimeter as anyone in the SEC. Few teams have been able to get outside this season against those long-armed defensive ends. That's not the strength for the Hogs this year. They are better off running straight at Carolina inside. That's what Auburn did in knocking off the Gamecocks last month. They found running room inside and kept it simple, negating Carolina's outside speed on defense. Can the Hogs run inside with Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson? They'll have to use the pulling blocks from their offensive guards this time. If you want to focus on the key matchup, watch Travis Swanson on his pulls inside along with guards Grant Cook and Alvin Bailey. That might be where the Hogs have to focus to get an edge in the running game.
3. Quarterback play
Who will be the dominant quaterback, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson or Carolina's Connor Shaw. This is where the game changes for Carolina. There have been few good quarterbacks on the Carolina schedule this season. The best was probably Aaron Murray from Georgia early in the season. Shaw hasn't had to do much on offense other than hand off to Marcus Lattimore (injured) or Brandon Wilds. Murray hasn't been consistent in finding wideout Alshon Jeffery, among the league's best at his position. The running game has prospered because most defenses have doubled Jeffrey meaning there was little safety help against the run on his side. Can Shaw figure out what the Hogs are doing in that regard to direct traffic in the running game? Can Wilson get the run checks right like Ryan Mallett did last year to take advantage of number mismatches when the Hogs scheme the edge?
This is always a key. The Hogs have narrowly won this statistical battle of late. But it hasn't been the kind of edge that Bobby Petrino wanted and talked about in preseason. He has said several times that he expected the turnovers to come start coming in bunches, but that hasn't happened. Petrino said the Hogs job this week is to force turnovers. Sometimes the physical nature of one team's hitting forces turnovers.
5. Special teams
The Hogs have to clean that up this week. They got three field goals last week while Vandy missed the one at the end, but there were plenty of Arkansas mistakes. There were penalties, including one that left Marquel Wade suspended this week in an unprecedented move by the SEC office. There was also the fake punt that Vandy converted into points.
6. Big plays
Carolina hasn't given up too many this year. They've played sound in the secondary. Arkansas hasn't had as many as last year when the deep passing game was a bigger threat. Can Dennis Johnson, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Cobi Hamilton produce some big plays? The Hogs have leaked in this department on defense, sometimes more in one half than the other. The Arkansas secondary must play more consistent. Cornerbacks Greg Gatson and Tevin Mitchel will have to keep Jeffery in check. And safeties Tramain Thomas, Elton Ford and Eric Bennett are going to have to help in the running game while providing double team help against Jeffery.
It seems like the Hogs have done better at home in this department than on the road. They will have to be poised and avoid holding calls against the Carolina ends and the personal fouls in the kicking game that have been a problem. Maybe they can cut down on the procedure penalties and false starts that have plagued them along the offensive and defensive line.
8. Home advantage
The Arkansas crowd was dynamite three weeks ago against Auburn. It might have been at its best in a long time. There were tickets still available on Friday, but not many. This might be the biggest crowd the Hogs have ever had for a home SEC game. By that I mean Arkansas fans in the seats. South Carolina bought only around 2,000 of the 5,000-seat block that the Hogs held. And Arkansas fans have gobbled up most of the turnback tickets. Students were camping for the prime seats by Thursday night. They'll be in top form for the 6:15 p.m. kickoff. There are reports that the Hogs will unveil some new uniforms, possibly in a "dark" shade for this weekend. That will add to the emotion for the players. That's the kind of twist players relish. We'll see if that combination and playing in their home stadium gives the Hogs a lift at the outset.
9. Greg Childs
He might be the wild card for the Hogs. He didn't travel last week after his knee, repaired after a tendon tear last year against Vandy, acted up midweek. He had a good practice this week Tuesday, then was at less than top form Wednesday. He fought back with a good workout Thursday and that might add some confidence that he can have a big game against the Gamecocks. Childs and Cobi Hamilton will rotate at one of those wide spots against a good Carolina defense. Childs has played well in spurts this year, especially in his run game blocking. The Hogs need him in what might be the biggest home game of the year.
10. Connor Shaw
The Carolina quarterback is the other wild card. He's been iffy in the passing game, but he's been effective as a scrambler and in quarterback draws for the Gamecocks when the offense has sputtered. The Hogs have to account for him on the scrambles, something that hasn't been easy for this defense over the last couple of years. Jerry Franklin has to have a solid night tracking Shaw so that the secondary can concentrate on Jeffery. That's easier said than done. Shaw is a good athlete and doesn't mind becoming a physical runner.
State of the Hogs: Top 10 List (Carolina)
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
TCU vs Iowa State primerAfter falling in double-overtime to Arkansas, TCU looks to get back to their winning ways against Iowa State.
Horned Frog Insider09/15/2016
The Ultimate Midlands TeamThere is a lot of talent in the Midlands region, with a vast majority of the highest rated recruits playing high school football in the Lone Star State. Which prospects made the…
These rival helmet color swaps are revoltingSwapping rival teams' helmet colors? It shouldn't have been done, but someone did it anyway.
Post-July 2017 Top 100 Player RankingsWith the July evaluation periods, Nike Skills Academy, adidas Nations and Under Armour's Elite 24 over, Scout's basketball recruiting team has updated the 2017 top 100. DeAndre…
2017 South Region Top 150The stars are lined up in the 2017 South Top 150 and you can see the full pre-season list here...