Bret Bielema has represented coaches on the rules committee for several years. He prides himself on knowing what's in the handbook. So it shouldn't surprise that he was aware of what was going on before Arkansas was assessed a penalty for fair catch interference against Florida.
"I didn't protest, because I knew the rule," said Bielema, the first-year Arkansas coach. "We'd gone over the rule with our players in preseason camp so a lot of them were aware of the call on the sideline."
That doesn't mean all liked it. Linebacker Jarrett Lake said he didn't argue the call, but he does not think "the rule makes much sense." He's tried to make sense of it this week and had visits with Randy Shannon, the UA linebackers coach.
"Coach Shannon and I talk about what to do next time," Lake said. "He told me to swat the ball to the ground and then jump on it. He said that's the best way to handle it."
Lake said he "didn't understand the rule" as it was called against Florida, but has moved forward.
"He bobbled it into my hands," Lake said. "I just grabbed it. I don't know that anyone would do it differently. He bobbled it to you, aren't you going to take it? I won't next time because I do know the rule now."
Lake is learning a lot this season. He's played all three linebacker positions, after playing mainly on special teams and a little nickel linebacker lat season. He's been at weakside, strongside and now at middle linebacker the last two weeks.
There appears to be a comfort level with coaches as far as Lake in the middle of the 4-3, an iffy spot over the last two seasons before Lake's steady play against Florida. Shannon apologized for all of the shifting as he tried to find the best combination at all three.
"We may be closer," Shannon said this week. "Jarrett did a nice job of getting everyone in the right spots and the right run fits. We were better this last week."
With two games to study Lake, what will South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier do to try to take advantage of any weaknesses? Or has Lake figured it out? Lake isn't sure on those questions, but he knows what his job is against the Gamecocks.
"It's still about stopping the run," Lake said. "We did that a little better last week at Florida. We know that South Carolina wants to run it first. We are playing another mobile quarterback in Connor Shaw. Our goal is to stop Mike Davis, the running back. If we do that, it will put the ball in Shaw's hands to run or throw. In the end we want to stop both Mike Davis and Connor Shaw."
That's perfect world stuff for the Arkansas defense. It hasn't happened much of late. But maybe with Lake at middle linebacker, the Hogs have a better shot at perfect world kind of stuff. If the senior from Tulsa can do that, perhaps he'll have a leg up on the Crip Hall Award, given to the top senior in the Homecoming game.
It's where we will start in this week's Top 10 keys to victory for the South Carolina-Arkansas game set for 11:21 a.m. Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
1, LINEBACKER PLAY – Both teams want to run it. Both teams are rebuilding at linebacker. It's where each team has been the spottiest all season. Arkansas has rotated players, but seems to have settled on Lake, Martrell Spaight and Braylon Mitchell of late. Carolina plays sophomores Kaiwan Lewis, Marcquis Roberts and junior Sharrod Golightly. All are considered talented, but Carolina's trio has little experience. That's where graduation hit the Gamecocks the hardest last season. It's clear that is where the Hogs will try to scheme an advantage with the running game. Can the toss sweep return to the UA running game with inexperienced linebackers on the other side? The Hogs haven't been a big pulling team since Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland have stepped in at guard. But they clearly have the athletic ability to help on the outside. Travis Swanson is fighting back from a knee problem at Florida. Those three will be the main thrusts trying to block Lewis, Roberts and Golightly.
2, TURNOVERS – Brandon Allen has had a pick six in each of the last two games, probably too much to overcome against highly ranked teams. Texas A&M and Florida did not commit turnovers. Shaw doesn't throw interceptions, but the Gamecocks have fumbled a bit. Shaw has zero picks in 96 attempts this season. Allen has four in 121 throws. Arkansas has four lost fumbles while rushing for 1,296 yards and has recovered only three in 208 opponent run plays. South Carolina has seven lost fumbles in 208 running plays. One of the cornerstones in Bielema's system is to win the turnover battle. That hasn't been a staple just yet. Carolina is favored. The main ingredient for an underdog win is to win the turnover battle. Can the Hogs do that against the Gamecocks?
3, PENALTIES – Bielema's goal is to become the least penalized team in the SEC. That's one of the reasons he and coaches put together a list of about 10 video clips each week to discuss with the SEC supervisor of officials. He said he gathers suggestions from assistant coaches Sunday morning to narrow the list to 10. He said he heard once of a coach sending 99 plays. He said, "I don't go past 10 many times because I think moderation is best." He said he didn't "believe in crying. I just think it's educational and good coaching. Some of it, we are trying to find out what is a penalty. I get suggestions from both coordinators and then I pick the 10."
4, PASSING GAME – South Carolina has been solid in the passing game with Shaw along with receivers 5-9 Bruce Ellington, 6-1 Shaq Roland and 5-7 Nick Jones. All are speedy and shifty. They'll be a tough match-up in open spaces for UA corners Tevin Mitchel and Carroll Washington, subbing for the injured Will Hines. The big key is whether or not Arkansas can do some good against a USC secondary that has often given up big numbers in the passing game. Allen completed just 17 of 41 last week for 164 yards. But Florida's corners are much better than the USC duo of Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton. This might be a good match-up for Keon Hatcher, D'Arthur Cowan and Javontee Herndon. Herndon has to improve after dropping key passes at Florida.
5, JADEVEON CLOWNEY – Normally, you'd put Clowney in the number one spot. But falling to fifth illustrates what has happened to the big-play end this season. He's been a no-show sometimes when he's played and especially last week when he elected not to play with pulled muscle in the rib area. He told coach Steve Spurrier that he couldn't go just ahead of the game. That's produced a circus in Columbia this week with Spurrier coming out with a nice defense and thank you for all of Clowney's efforts over the past three years. It sounds like the two have kissed and made up. If Clowney is on board and healthy, he is a game changer. Arkansas O-line coach Sam Pittman said you have to account for Clowney on every play. He said, "If you think you are going to block him with your left tackle for an entire game, you are going to lose the game. You have to scheme help against Clowney." Is this the Clowney that destroyed Michigan in the bowl game to earn a spot on Heisman Trophy watch lists? That is a big key Saturday
6, ADJUSTMENTS – An old defensive coach who had battled Steve Spurrier gave the "old ball coach" the ultimate compliment a few years back. He said Spurrier is ready with adjustments for every adjustment you make. He's seen them all and is ready for his next move as soon as you trot out something you think is different. Shannon said, "His reputation is that he throws the ball around. In reality, he's been a run first guy for a long time. He's going to use the run to set up the pass. And if you don't stop the run, he won't pass. He's very, very good."
7, EXPERIENCE – Are the young Hogs – four freshmen play a lot on offense – starting to figure out the SEC? Running back Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry and the guards, Skipper and Kirkland, are playing their third SEC game. All four have played a lot of minutes this year. Are they stepping up to the challenge? Do they have enough experience to handle teams like Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina? It's a big key. All four have to play big minutes against the Gamecocks and be consistent performers. Carolina returns 21 starters, but it may not be Spurrier's most talented team. But the Gamecocks have the edge in experience. Is this the week some of the young Hogs come of age in a big way?
8, PASS PROTECTION – This could go in the passing game column, but it's important enough to get its own spot. Arkansas didn't protect Allen last week at Florida. He got hit eight times. Clowney is a force, but so is his backup, freshman Darius English. Senior Chaz Sutton, the other end, is a solid pass rusher. So is tackle Kelcy Quarles with four sacks and 15 tackles. The Hogs have to be careful in the way they rush Shaw. Jake Bequette blasted him out of the game two years ago in Fayetteville. Can Chris Smith, Trey Flowers, Robert Thomas and the rest of the UA defensive line get to Shaw without letting him scramble free? Carolina has given up a few sacks, but Shaw has made a lot of plays with his feet. He helps Carolina's protection with his mobility. Is Allen's shoulder healthy enough that he may run a few times this week. He said the goal chart in the UA quarterback room lists "make two plays with your feet for first downs every week." Can Allen do that this week and can the Hogs limit Shaw to under that number? It may be a big key to victory.
9, ATMOSPHERE – The Hogs didn't handle the great atmosphere in The Swamp last week when 90,000 Gator fans made it difficult as far as communication. Do the Hogs get some help from a Homecoming crowd? Bielema is banking on it. He said Homecoming is a big deal for fans, maybe more than players. There are no Homecoming dances in college anymore. It's not like high school when the activities spell over to the players. But college players like Homecoming because the old grads often return packing the stands and making for a nice atmosphere. Bielema told his players to expect that Saturday and that excited some of the Razorbacks. "That's what we expect," Chris Smith said. "It should be a fun day. Homecoming is fun for the fans and that makes it fun for us. We need their help."
10, FAST START – The Arkansas-South Carolina game has been a huge turning point for both sides. Arkansas has a 5-1 record in Fayetteville and a 13-8 overall edge. And it's been the game that has set the stage for a bowl trip in many years. More times than not, the winner has gone on to a decent season and set things up for a good stretch run. Arkansas needs a victory to end a three-game losing streak. The Hogs need to show a desire to win and prove that they still have the "buy-in" with new coaches. Bielema's job is to hold a good senior class together for a stretch run. It may be important to get some early success. The Hogs have won the first quarter, 52-24. A good start against the Gamecocks could provide the momentum for an upset. It's an 11:21 start, so the Hogs have to rise early and come to play at the outset.
State of the Hogs: Top 10 (Carolina)
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