Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack added up the Razorbacks' losses at Florida, at Auburn and against Georgia, figured in their two off weeks and came to a stunning realization Wednesday.

It has been a really, really long time since the Hogs have enjoyed a victory.

Five Saturdays -- and 42 days, to be exact -- have passed since Arkansas' 27-10 win against Alabama on Sept. 25. That's why Wommack donned a serious look when he talked about today's critical Southeastern Conference matchup between Arkansas and South Carolina in Columbia's Williams-Brice Stadium.

"It seems like that Alabama game has been a year ago now with the open dates," Wommack said. "I can't remember the last time it's been that long of a stretch in the season. We need to go. We need to get on it."

Arkansas' postseason hopes hinge on another strong finish and the Razorbacks (3-4, 1-3 in the SEC) kick off the final month at South Carolina (5-3, 3-3), which is just as desperate for a victory. The Hogs have backed themselves into a corner after losing three consecutive games and must win three of their final four to become bowl-eligible for the seventh straight season.

The Razorbacks are in familiar territory, but receiver Steven Harris said the young Hogs can't afford to have their losing streak extended to four games.

"We have to get back on top," Harris said. "If it continues to snowball, we've got young guys, they don't exactly know what it takes to get out of situations like that.

"This game is vital to our confidence because, just looking at reality, we are coming off three losses. You've kind of got that bitter taste in your mouth and it's like, 'Man, we need to get a win.' It has been a month."

The last time Arkansas lost four in a row and was winless for 42 days was in 2000, when a 4-1 start evaporated after losses to South Carolina, Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee. The Hogs rallied to win their final two regular-season games and received an invitation to the Las Vegas Bowl.

Arkansas has experienced three-game losing skids in three of the past four seasons since 2000, but coach Houston Nutt has helped the Razorbacks bounce back and string together lengthy win streaks in 2001 and 2003. After dropping three games in 2001, the Hogs won six in a row and finished 7-4. They lost three games in October last season, but won four in a row in November and finished 8-4.

The Razorbacks are 12-2 in November the past three seasons and plan to continue that trend, even if the players aren't sure why they've been so successful this month in the past.

"I don't know what it is," said junior center Kyle Roper. "I think it's one of those things that starts staring you right in the face. If you want to go to a bowl game, you've got to do things. Maybe that's it. That would be my best bet.

"You realize you don't want to have a losing season."

But the Gamecocks don't want to experience another disappointing winter, either.

South Carolina has reached the five-win mark and is on the doorstep of becoming bowl-eligible for the third time in six years under coach Lou Holtz. But the sixth win has been unattainable the past three seasons. After last Saturday's 43-29 loss against then-No. 11 Tennessee, South Carolina dropped to 0-10 after claiming its fifth win.

The Gamecocks believe Arkansas, the 11th attempt to break the six-win curse, is their best chance with road games at Florida and in-state rival Clemson remaining. South Carolina is 0-3 in SEC home games this season, but intends to help 23 veterans celebrate Senior Day with a big win against the Hogs.

"Hopefully, we can get that win this week then we'll look at the last two games," senior Gamecocks quarterback Dondrial Pinkins told The State (S.C.) newspaper earlier this week. "We don't want it to come down to the last game trying to become bowl eligible.

"We'd love to get it out of the way this week."

Nutt, who played for Holtz here in 1977 and served as a graduate assistant under him here in 1983, knows the former Arkansas coach will have South Carolina at its best. But Nutt said the Hogs must do whatever they can to ignore the emotions of the day.

"I know coach Holtz very well, and they're really going to put it on their seniors," Nutt said. "It's the last time 15 or 16 guys will ever play in that stadium. He'll pull on them very hard about the fact they haven't won a conference game at home. He'll make it a very, very special day.

"You know the emotions are going to be running high. So you have to overcome that, especially in the first five to six minutes of the game."

Arkansas benefited from a well-timed off-week, giving the Hogs plenty of time to lick October wounds while preparing for the Gamecocks. Injured players like quarterback Matt Jones (groin, hamstring), fullback Peyton Hillis (back), linebacker Sam Olajubutu (knee), receiver Steven Harris (knee) and tight end Jared Hicks (shoulder) should be close to full-speed for the first time in a month.

The Hogs also can draw on their successful history against South Carolina as they've won five of the six meetings under Nutt. Arkansas has claimed three straight by a combined score of 61-13, dominating on defense and accomplishing just enough offensively to add momentum to November runs.

That's why free safety Vickiel Vaughn believes the Hogs can put together another lengthy winning streak starting today.

"It has been so long since we've won," Vaughn said. "You want to get that feeling back into your program. If we get this, we can start back over. This is like Game 1 for us as far as trying to get that win and trying to get that winning feeling back.

"This is probably a must-win for us and our program," Vaughn said. "They're in the same boat, so it will be a good game."

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