A little later, tears streamed down tight end Jared Hicks' face when he exited Arkansas' meeting room. Linebacker Clarke Moore felt "really down" after the Gamecocks' crushing blow. And center Kyle Roper simply said it's "depressing."
Arkansas' preseason goal of returning to postseason play came to an end when true freshman quarterback Casey Dick's last-minute, fourth-down pass landed on the turf in front of 65,837 in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Razorbacks' (2-6, 0-5 in Southeastern Conference) fell to 0-3 in conference games in Fayetteville, dropped its third straight on homecoming and is 0-5 in SEC play for the first time in school history. But the most telling figure is that the Hogs will miss out on a bowl game for the second straight season under Houston Nutt.
"That's just what it is," Nutt said. "It's my lowest point since I've been here."
South Carolina (6-3, 4-3), which was held to a season-low 187 yards, scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Blake Mitchell to receiver Kenny McKinley on the last play of the third quarter. Arkansas had plenty of chances to dent the scoreboard, but can blame missed opportunities for another close loss.
Nutt was hoping a change at quarterback would correct some of the inefficiencies that damaged Arkansas' upset hopes during its 23-20 loss at then-No. 4 Georgia two weeks ago. He benched sophomore Robert Johnson in place of Dick and hoped the move would spark the SEC's 12th-ranked passing offense.
The Razorbacks gained 356 yards thanks to McFadden (187 rushing yards) and true freshman teammate Felix Jones (66). Dick completed 12 of 24 passes for 137 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception in his debut. But it wasn't enough.
Arkansas slipped into South Carolina territory on seven of its 12 possessions, but only reached the end zone once on Dick's 4-yard touchdown pass to fullback Peyton Hillis in the second quarter. The Razorbacks were 4 of 14 on third down, 0 of 4 on fourth down and were plagued by missed assignments and penalties.
"When we get the offense the ball, they've got to put points on the board," safety Randy Kelly said. "I'm not trying to be negative. I mean, everybody can see it for themselves. But we're going to keep doing our jobs."
Said McFadden: "It was frustrating because we got in the red zone a few times and couldn't get much out of it."
Its final trip into South Carolina territory was a perfect example. Trailing 14-10 with 7:12 remaining, McFadden and Jones touched the ball on six straight plays to help the Hogs move from their own 21 to South Carolina's 26. But McFadden was stuffed on three straight plays and the Hogs turned the ball over on downs with 3:39 left.
Arkansas also missed a chance to get into the end zone late in the first half, when a 36-yard run by McFadden helped the Hogs move to South Carolina's 1.
De'Arrius Howard was dropped for a one-yard loss on first down. McFadden was stuffed on second. And Dick threw an incomplete pass on third.
Arkansas had to settle for Chris Balseiro's 19-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead with three seconds left in the half.
"We had a lot of good things, but the bad things oversee the good things that we did," said right tackle Robert Felton. "It's real hard. Especially when you have a drive and you're moving 30, 40 yards and then you get down to the 20 and you can't put it in. Or you get to the 2-yard line and you can't get a touchdown.
"We should be able to get two yards or whatever."
If that wasn't enough, the defense also botched a scoring chance in the second quarter when a holding penalty on Kelly nullified a touchdown.
Defensive end Jamaal Anderson intercepted a pass and rumbled 21 yards into the end zone for an apparent score that would've given the Hogs a 14-7 lead. But Kelly was penalized after slipping and grabbing a South Carolina receiver's jersey.
"It felt real bad," Kelly said. "I saw Jamaal in the end zone. I couldn't do nothing but put my head down and shake it off and play the next play.
"But I slipped. There was nothing I could do."
The missed chances spoiled another solid effort from Arkansas' defense, which didn't allow the Gamecocks to drive the length of the field for touchdowns.
In fact, South Carolina's first touchdown was practically a gift from Nutt and the Razorbacks on their first possession.
Arkansas failed to get a first down on its first three plays, but Nutt left the offense on the field for fourth-and 1 from its own 29. Dick tried to get the first down on a quarterback sneak, but the Gamecocks stuffed the play and took over on downs.
"I wish I wouldn't (have gone for it)," Nutt said. "Six inches. I thought we could get. But I probably shouldn't have. I know better than that. (We were) trying to get some early momentum. I didn't want them to come out on the sideline three and out.
"I just really thought we could get the first down and get going."
Said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier: "I thought it was a little bit of a gamble."
The Gamecocks cashed in four plays later when quarterback Blake Mitchell found Sidney Rice, for a 7-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. It was Rice's 12th touchdown catch season and eighth-straight game with a score. Both are school records.
The Gamecocks scored their second touchdown after Dick threw an interception to linebacker Orus Lambert, trying to find Jones on a screen pass. Mitchell hit McKinley, who beat cornerback Matterral Richardson, for a 42-yard touchdown.
It was the longest play of the day for the South Carolina, which won a school-record, fourth-straight SEC game. The Gamecocks also became bowl-eligible in their first season under Spurrier and claimed their second straight win against the Hogs.
"Our guys are playing like winners," Spurrier said. "We're playing like winners right now and gee, it's fun."
Arkansas doesn't feel the same with games against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU remaining. The Razorbacks won't have a chance to participate in postseason play and safety Vickiel Vaughn said there's nothing but pride left to play for.
But linebacker Pierre Brown said Arkansas doesn't intend to lose three more.
"We will continue to fight for the rest of the season," Brown said. "I felt like we dominated as a defense, so it's frustrating. We have to continue to do our job and fight so we don't finish the season 2-9."
Arkansas' Plans End After Loss
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