The idea of a "new season" -- which Arkansas coach Houston Nutt proclaimed after the 9-7 loss to Auburn three weeks ago -- has run rampant through the Razorbacks' locker room the past two weeks.

It may be nothing more than a motivational ploy to finish strong, but Arkansas (5-3, 1-3 in Southeastern Conference) seems serious about the notion. The Razorbacks outscored their past two opponents, Ole Miss and Florida International, 102-18. The two wins have, at the very least, built confidence.

But now, defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said it gets serious against No. 23 South Carolina tonight. It's the first of a challenging, four-game stretch that includes Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU.

"Whatever we've done to this point is a moot point," Herring said. "What we do from here on out will stand the test as far as how much we've grown."

So what do the Razorbacks need to do to stay unblemished against South Carolina in this so-called new season? Here's a few ideas:

1. Lean On Healthy McFadden

Darren McFadden finally admitted this week that the bruised ribs he first sustained against Kentucky were hurting him more than he let on last month. But the SEC's leading rusher said he's healthy and ready for the stretch run.

The good news for Arkansas? McFadden has always had big games against the Gamecocks. The junior rumbled for 187 yards as a freshman in 2005. Then he kicked off his Heisman Trophy campaign with an impressive 219 yards and two touchdowns in last season's win in Columbia, S.C.

If McFadden can put up a similar performance against a South Carolina run defense that has been soft this season, the Hogs' chances of getting a much-needed will grow. If not, Arkansas will likely fall to 1-4 in SEC play.

2. Keep Collecting Turnovers

In a span of two weeks, Arkansas' defense has gone from a turnover-starved unit to one of the SEC's best. The Razorbacks have forced 11 turnovers against Ole Miss and Florida International. That includes nine interceptions.

"Our defense made it very easy because of the short field," Nutt said. "Kept getting interceptions and fumbles and have done a good job the last few games with turnovers. That's really helped everything."

The Razorbacks have forced an SEC-high 22 turnovers this season and are 11th in the nation in that statistical category. They're sixth in the nation in interceptions (15). On the flip side, South Carolina has coughed the ball up an SEC-high 22 times and is 104th in the nation in turnovers lost.

3. Convert on Third Downs

Arkansas offensive coordinator David Lee said one alarming statistic caught his attention as he prepared this week: South Carolina's opponents are only converting 27 percent of the time on third downs.

Lee said the Razorbacks can run the ball all they want, but if they don't have success on third down against South Carolina -- which is also ranked second in the nation in pass defense (153.7 yards a game) -- they won't win.

That means quarterback Casey Dick will be counted on to make big plays in passing situations. Fullback Peyton Hillis has been his primary target on third downs, but the Razorbacks are hoping the return of Marcus Monk will help.

"If we can make those third downs, keep some drives going, sustain some drives, we're going to have a better chance to win," Lee said.

4. No Cheap, Easy Scores

Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring often talks about his defense being a work in progress. With the season winding down, Herring's group has shown plenty of it in the Razorbacks' past three games.

In particular, the Hogs have cut back on their propensity to give up the big play, holding four of their past five opponents under 10 points. It's a far cry from early in the season, when Arkansas' first three opponents scored 26, 41 and 42 points in consecutive weeks. Herring said it must continue tonight.

"They're really been fairly consistent except for giving up the cheap, easy touchdowns early in the year," Herring said. "That was something that we've put a lid on for now. But with the last four games, it still remains to be seen."

5. Watch Out For No. 40

Nutt has been very complimentary of South Carolina's defense. He specifically pointed out what he believes is an increase in team speed. One player he has mentioned all week is talented defensive end Eric Norwood.

The South Carolina sophomore has been a menace to opposing offenses this season. Norwood ranks second on the team in tackles (51). He also has a team-leading 14 tackles for losses and five sacks. Even more impressive, Norwood has collected 12 sacks in just 22 career games.

Norwood and linemate Casper Brinkley will be tough assignments for the line, which struggled against Auburn's defense three weeks ago. Starting tackles Nate Garner and Jose Valdez will be tested once again.


South Carolina's SEC East Division championship hopes, which looked promising two weeks ago, have suffered crippling blows with consecutive losses to Vanderbilt (17-6) and Tennessee (27-24 in overtime).

The two losses have knocked the Gamecocks out of the driver's seat for the SEC title game in Atlanta, a place they've never been. But in a wacky season South Carolina (6-3, 3-3) comes to Fayetteville tonight knowing its division title hopes aren't dead even with three losses.

"It is what it is, and we are where we are," coach Steve Spurrier said. "We're 6-3. We need to get together and win us a ballgame. We're capable of beating Arkansas. We're capable of beating everybody we play.

The Gamecocks suffered a 26-20 loss to Arkansas in Columbia, S.C., last season, but have won two of the past three in the series. That includes a 14-10 win in Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2005. Spurrier's bunch will be primed for a repeat tonight if it can accomplish the following:

1. Stop the run. Or, at least, slow it.

It's no secret South Carolina's defense has been the strength of the team this season. But even the team's strength has a weak point -- stopping the run.

The Gamecocks enter tonight's game as one of the SEC's worst against the run. They're ninth in the league, allowing 169.2 rushing yards a game. They haven't held an opponent under 100 rushing yards this season. But South Carolina believes the 101 yards it allowed in the Tennessee loss was a sign of improvement. It will find out for sure against the Razorbacks.

"I hope we have (improved)," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. "We'll get challenged again this week. As the season goes on we ought to get better and better every week. We feel like the run game has been one of our weaknesses. So we ought to be improving on that."

2. Revive Blake Mitchell

The much-maligned senior quarterback will make his first start since late September after coming off the bench to replace freshman Chris Smelley at Tennessee last week. Mitchell -- who hadn't played in three of South Carolina's previous four games -- completed 31 of 45 passes for 290 yards and nearly led to the Gamecocks to a win after falling into a 21-0 halftime hole.

Mitchell made a similar, late-season surge in 2006 after coming off the bench to complete 15 of 21 passes for 213 yards in the 26-20 loss to Arkansas. South Carolina went on to win three of its final four with Mitchell under center.

"When his number is called, he's definitely ready to go out there and do what he was meant to do: Be the leader of this team," running back Cory Boyd said.

3. Stay Sound Up Front

South Carolina's Achilles' heel has been its unimpressive offensive line. The Gamecocks have struggled to open running lanes and have allowed an SEC-high 27 sacks. But South Carolina's line was fairly stout against Tennessee. At least, compared to the rest of the season.

"They played a little bit better," Spurrier said. "We had leaks here and there but overall I think the line did play better than it's played most of the year."

Spurrier said Heath Batchelor will start at right guard tonight. Batchelor -- who was commended for his play off the bench against the Volunteers -- will be the sixth player to start at the spot in nine games. So the Gamecocks are counting on Batchelor and company to hold firm for the second straight week.

4. Run Boyd. Run Davis.

Arkansas' tailback tandem of McFadden and Felix Jones are the big stars, but South Carolina's running backs -- senior Boyd and junior Mike Davis -- could play an even bigger role in the outcome tonight.

The Gamecocks are 11th in the SEC in rushing (121.2 yards a game), but broke free for 190 against Tennessee's soft defense. Boyd was the biggest contributor, rumbling for a career-high 160 yards and a score.

"It was nice to have," Boyd said. "But that was last week. Now I'm just looking for better things. ... I have to focus on trying to repeat it to help my team."

Arkansas' rushing defense hasn't been very dependable this season. The Razorbacks have allowed 150 yards a game. If the Gamecocks run the ball with success again, Spurrier's offense could be potent.

5. Harass Casey Dick

South Carolina's offense has given up a lot of sacks this season, but Nix's defense has become one of the SEC's most successful at getting to opposing quarterbacks. The Gamecocks have 19 sacks, which is third in the league.

Nix is known for getting pressure on quarterbacks. Norwood leads the Gamecocks with five sacks, but Brinkley, defensive lineman Ladi Ajiboye and strong safety Emanuel Cook have three apiece.

The pressure is one big reason why South Carolina's defense has been one of the nation's stingiest against the pass this season.

"We give a lot of the credit to our D-line," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "They get after the quarterback and rush him to throw the ball."

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