Sometime in May, just after the close of spring practice, there came the requests from subscribers to our website to make season forecasts for this Arkansas football team. Pick a record.
So I did, committing to 7-5. There wasn't a lot of science. No complex
formulas. I didn't know enough about the other teams for any of that.
I did know a lot about this Arkansas team, although there were mysteries.
How long would it take for the much needed help in the defensive backfield
to take hold? Would the sacks decrease? Could the defense stop the run?
Turns out the secondary did get some help from Rudell Crim and Andru Stewart early. It appears David Gordon, Anthony Leon and Darius Winston are
starting to catch on now. We just didn't know Isaac Madison would be lost
in August practice to ACL surgery.
The sacks are down. It's also become apparent that they can stop the run,
to some extent.
It's turned out about the way I thought. The record would be only slightly
better, but the team would be closer in the losses. Plus, the nonconference
wins are about the way I thought, not as close as last year. Replacing
Texas with Texas A&M helped a bunch in that regard.
I thought the losses would be Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and LSU.
I didn't even hesitate on any of those. And, the wins that were easy to
circle were Missouri State, Texas A&M, Eastern Michigan, Troy and
Mississippi State. I figured Auburn and South Carolina could be tight fits,
but probable wins.
Both Auburn and Mississippi State turned out to be better than I expected,
but South Carolina comes to the Ozarks as advertised. It's probably the
make-or-break game, as always.
If you go back through the history of the Arkansas-Carolina series, it's
been the defining game for both teams for as long as they've been in the
SEC, with the exception of year one when both were struggling. It was the
first game after the Citadel debacle for Arkansas and it fell in the middle
of a five-game losing streak for the Gamecocks.
But if you look at this game starting about 1994, the season of the winner
turned upward. The loser slumped. It will probably work out that way again
"We know the importance," said Tim Horton, UA backfield coach. "It's always
been the game that pointed one of the team's in the right direction and
other in the wrong direction. It has determined bowl situations almost
every time. It's a big game and we all know it."
That's big picture stuff. As far as finer points, finding South Carolina
linebacker Eric Norwood and keeping him from hitting Ryan Mallett is the
"That's a job," Horton said. "In their scheme, they move him. They are in a
different front every snap."
Often, a running back will be on Norwood, a 240-pounder.
"We've been better in pass protection this year," Horton said. "Our young
ones are doing well in that area."
The toughest matchup would be Michael Smith, perhaps 170, against Norwood.
Some wonder why Broderick Green gets so many snaps. He's 240 or better and
is a fine pass blocker.
"Michael's technique is outstanding and he's a good pass protector, but you
just wish there was a little more lead in his butt," Horton said. "We made
some mistakes in pass protection last year against South Carolina. Some of
them were with our backs and some were with calls from the quarterback.
That's a big part of this game Saturday."
On the other side, can Arkansas get pressure on Stephen Carcia, the mobile
South Carolina quarterback. The Gamecocks have struggled some in the
offensive line under a new coach. They've played almost a different unit
"They do move guys around," Arkansas end Jake Bequette said. "I've studied
tape of four different offensive tackles. They've switched their guards and
tackles from one week to the next. We have to prepare for several
combinations. It's something that adds to your study because different guys
show you different things with their stances, so you better know all of
All those Carolina blitzes, stunts and variations in fronts causes a lot of
film study, too.
"It's not that there are things we haven't seen before," Michael Smith
said. "But we don't usually see it all in the same game. We will this week.
"It's a lot, but we can get to it with a lot of study. That's what we have
to do this week, make sure we are thorough."
The good news is the Hogs are probably more healthy than the Gamecocks.
Arkansas hasn't had an open date since the second week of the season, but
Carolina has a worse schedule. The Gamecocks haven't had an open date and
are seven weeks into a slate with eight straight SEC games. Plus, the Hogs
get them in between Tennessee and Florida.
That's one of those things I looked at last spring when I picked Arkansas.
Nothing has happened to change my mind.
When we look back on this season in December, this will be the game that
gets circled as the key to a bowl trip. And, I still think it will be
Arkansas going to the better bowl.
State of the Hogs: Drive to 7-5
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