Tenth-ranked South Carolina will face arguably the best offense it will see all season Saturday night when it travels to a place where things rarely go well for the Gamecocks when they take on eighth-ranked Arkansas in Fayetteville. Carolina is just 2-7 on the road against Arkansas with the games being played in Fayetteville or Little Rock. The Gamecocks desperately need a win in order to stay ahead in the SEC East as well as – as strange as it may sound – BCS National Championship hopes alive.
Both teams enter Saturday's contest at 7-1 with each loss coming at the hands of an SEC opponent. Carolina's loss came in a heartbreaker against Auburn, while Arkansas loss came at the hands of one of the nation's best teams, second-ranked Alabama.
The Razorbacks bring in one of the nation's premier passing games. Arkansas is first in the SEC by a wide margin in passing yards per game at 321 yards, ninth in the nation. They are second in the SEC behind Alabama and twenty-fifth in the nation in total offense with 453 yards per game.
"Arkansas is a really good passing team," safeties coach Jeep Hunter said following Monday's practice. "We have to be ready to go to work this week. I believe our guys are going to step up to the challenge and play hard and get after it. We're going to continue to study film and practice hard and get out there and give it a shot."
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson is one of the nation's best quarterbacks. Wilson is eleventh nationally with 291 passing yards per game. He has completed 175-of-297 passes for 2,327 yards and 13 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Wilson is averaging just one interception per 99 passes.
"We have to execute what we're doing on defense," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "Tyler is a great quarterback. I was there when we recruited him and he's shown that he controls the ball. He doesn't turn the ball over much. When you throw as much as they do and only have (three) interceptions that shows that he knows what Bobby (Petrino) wants in his system. We have to do a great job of disguising and hopefully we can try and confuse him a little bit and maybe he'll throw us one or two."
Most of Wilson's targets don't have the height of an Alshon Jeffery that he can just throw it up to and they will come down with it, but he has guys that know how to get open and when they get loose you will not be chasing them down. Jarius Wright has been Wilson's favorite target throughout the season. The 5'10 senior leads the teams in catches, yards, and touchdowns. Wright has caught 44 passes for 709 yards and seven touchdowns. Joe Adams is right behind Wright in catches and yards with 37 for 453 yards, but only one touchdown. Tight end Chris Gragg and Cobi Hamilton are the other two favorites for Wilson to hit.
"They're very talented at all the skill positions," Ward said. "They have three good receivers and a tight end that can run and plays well. The quarterback is playing well so it's definitely the biggest challenge we've had."
When you're going up against an offensive juggernaut that Arkansas is, you would like to have all options available at cornerback. Back-ups Victor Hampton and C.C. Whitlock have battle injuries the last week, but both are expected to be back. Hampton had a very scary moment early in the Tennessee game when he ran into the brick wall just beyond the back of the end zone.
"Marty and Stephon would have had to play the entire game so we're glad to see he (Hampton) wasn't hurt too badly," Ward said of the injury. "I think that's something they'll have to address in the future because that wall is dangerous."
When facing an offense like Arkansas and a quarterback like Wilson, the Gamecocks must do better than they did last season in the loss and get pressure on Wilson, something they have done well this season.
We probably will be a little bit more aggressive because if you let Wilson sit back there he will pick you apart," Ward said. "We have to make him move his feet."
Defense faces tough test
Gamecock Anthem Top Stories
Scout 2018: Top 30 for 2018Scout releases its updated Top 30 for the Class of 2018, which is now on the clock leading up to National Signing Day 2018...
Updated Scout 300 Trend Meter For 2017Signing day is Feb. 1 and the updated Scout 300 Trend Meter for the 2017 class takes a look at which schools are trending for each uncommitted member in the Scout 300.
Top 100 high school football prospectsOf the 270,000 high school seniors that played football in 2016, only these players made Scout.com's Top 100 list.
Scout's Top 25 Recruiting ClassesA look at Scout's top 25 classes with just over a week to go to Signing Day.