The definition arrived in the SEC race. LSU and Arkansas stepped forward. Alabama and South Carolina fell back.
Here's the way it looks in the SEC West: LSU 6-0, Alabama 5-1, Arkansas 4-1. The East: Georgia 5-1, Carolina 5-2.
It's like almost every year for Arkansas and South Carolina. The winner moves higher in the bowl lineup. The loser accepts its destiny in a disappointing season. It's been like that for most of the last 20 years since the two joined the SEC and drew each other as the annual cross over matchup.
The game was a lot like last year's Arkansas-Carolina matchup in Columbia. The Hogs thumped the Gamecocks, 41-20, that time. They were as dominant this time in the trenches, but a few dropped touchdown passes, a couple of missed field goals and a failed series on the goal line allowed the Gamecocks to hand around too long before they limped home a 44-28 loser.
It was 30-28 in the fourth quarter before the Hogs started wreaking havoc with their pass rush. Sacks and turnovers put it away.
The game was billed as a matchup of South Carolina's speedy, rangy ends against the potent UA passing game. The Gamecocks had given up 42 and 37 points to the only two teams with a legit passing attack, Georgia and East Carolina. They won both because they ran the ball effectively. They didn't against the Hogs.
Arkansas limited the Carolina running game to just 79 yards on 33 carries. Running back Brandon Wilds got 21 on 10 carries.
The Hogs were the most physical team on the night and the fastest. Head coach Bobby Petrino noted that afterwards when he said the Hogs used the same formula as the past two years against the Gamecocks. Their goal was to outhit the visitors. They did.
Here's a look at our Friday list of the Top 10 things to watch and how they turned out.
No doubt, the Hogs won more than enough battles with their linemen. The defensive line had its best game. Jake Bequette, with three sacks, was back to his normal self for the first time since his hamstring injury in September. The Hogs rolled defensive linemen throughout and kept up the intensity throughout the night. Carolina, with two freshmen in the offensive line, gave out at the end. The Hogs answered with good competitive spirit at each possible turning point in the game. That starts with the battles up front and the Hogs won them. The only play the Gamecocks had of any danger was the quarterback draw with Connor Shaw. Eventually, they were too far behind for that to be a legit weapon and the pass was not a danger. The Hogs were so physical they didn't have a punt in the final stat sheet. (There was one, but it was erased when Carolina ran into the kicker for a first down.)
2. Outstanding running
Dennis Johnson was the best back on the field and it wasn't close. The little bowling ball gained 86 yards on 15 carries. He also returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. The Hogs outran the Gamecocks, 136 to 79. It was enough of an edge that the Arkansas play-action passing game was effective for big plays. The Carolina strong safety had to come up and wasn't free to just play pass. It proved decisive as the Hogs rolled to 299 through the air. And it should have been more. There were three dropped TD passes.
3. Quarterback play
Arkansas won this battle. Tyler Wilson had one turnover when he should have taken a sack, but fired a slinging pass that was returned for a touchdown. But to Wilson's credit, he hit Jarius Wright for a 68-yard TD bomb on the next play. Connor Shaw made some plays in quarterback runs, but he was just 16 of 25 for 128 yards throwing. And he was sacked five times, the last on a big hit from Jake Bequette that put the Carolina quarterback out of the game with five minutes to go.
Arkansas had one. Carolina had four. That led to a huge advantage in field position for the Hogs. Arkansas averaged starting on the Carolina 46. The Gamecocks averaged starting on their own 24. Plus three in turnovers will do that for you. Petrino said the Hogs needed to hit the Wilds, the freshman runner, until he gave up the ball. That finally happened. The Hogs recovered three fumbles. Alonzo Highsmith intercepted Connor Shaw for the fourth turnover.
5. Special teams
Arkansas won this area, but had some mistakes. Dennis Johnson returned a kickoff 98 yards for a TD. But the Hogs also got three other nice kickoff returns. Zach Hocker had an up and down night. He was awesome on kickoffs, beating the Carolina specialist by an average of 10 yards. He also recovered a fumble on a kickoff. But he only hit three of five field goals. It was an easy night for punter Dylan Breeding. His only punt was taken off the books when the Gamecocks ran into him for a first down penalty.
6. Big plays
The Hogs got the advantage here, but they could have had more. They dropped two or three TD passes. There was only the pick six thrown by Wilson that provided anything big for the Gamecocks. Arkansas had long plays of 68, 39, 23 and 17 (twice).
Both teams had nine. Arkansas contributed to one of Carolina's scoring drives, with four. The Gamecocks got three of their 17 first downs via penalty. Most of the UA flags were against the defense. This was an area that kept the game closer than the stats in other categories would suggest.
8. Home advantage
It's clear now that the home field is big for the Hogs. They have played better at home than on the road this year in SEC play. Wilson has been much stronger at home. The defense has tackled better and played sharper at home. Petrino said Saturday night that the Hog Walk before the game was the biggest and loudest in his time at Arkansas. Players said they sometimes had to turn sideways to wiggle through the throng of fans as they headed into the stadium.
9. Greg Childs
The big senior wideout made a few plays, but he's still not himself. He's trying to come back from knee surgery this time last season. He sometimes had a limp as he headed on and off the field. But Childs did play after not making the trip to Vandy. So that has to be a plus as the Hogs finish November.
10. Connor Shaw
He is the X factor for the Carolina offense with his quarterback runs. But he's not the passer that Stephen Garcia brought. Alshon Jeffery, the highly advertised 6-4 USC wideout, was never a factor because Shaw just couldn't get him the ball down the field. Most of the Carolina pass completions were underneath for short yardage. When Shaw was forced to throw, the Hogs sacked him five times.
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