Pass defense faces stern test

Prior to the season, Southeastern Conference followers diagnosing the University of South Carolina's schedule immediately focused on a three-game portion that featured what appeared to be difficult league road games.

The Gamecocks enter Saturday night's game against Arkansas in the final of those three contests after having taken care of Mississippi State and Tennessee in back-to-back games away from home. The Razorbacks should prove to be the most difficult of the trio, however, as they enter the contest ranked seventh nationally with their only loss coming to second-ranked Alabama.

If USC is to be competitive in the game, it will not only need its defense to continue to play the way it has most of the season, but the offense will have to become more diversified and deficient if it is keep up with it more highly ranked opponent.

"They have the weapons," said freshman defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. "I believe we focus on getting pressure on the quarterback and flushing him out of the pocket. That's what we really stress. You have to watch out for the run, and when the pocket collapses, you have to run to the ball and make a play."

After looking spectacular in his initial game after taking over for now departed quarterback Stephen Garcia, sophomore Connor Shaw has been less than effective through the air. With sophomore All-American tailback Marcus Lattimore now out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the Gamecocks cannot count on consistently solid performances on the ground. They have to come up with a plethora of ways to move the ball.

Freshman Brandon Wilds had an encouraging first start in place of Lattimore, rushing for 127 yards in a 14-3 Gamecocks win over Tennessee. Shaw only managed to pass for 89 yards in the contest, as the Volunteers opted to defend against the pass, which is a departure from the focus previous teams have employed.

The South Carolina defense will have its biggest challenge of the season, as Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson has passed for 2,327 yards and 13 touchdowns this season in helping the Razorbacks continue to be one of the nation's most dynamic passing attacks.

The Gamecocks enter the game ranked first the country in passing defense, allowing opponents 135.9 yards per game through the air. They have picked off 16 passes and recovered 10 fumbles.

A win is important, as USC (7-1, 5-1) is tied with Georgia for first place in the East Division.

"Hopefully we play better," said USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. "We've simplified what we're doing on defense. If guys execute, we'll be fine. They're very talented at all skill positions. They've got good receivers and a tight end that can run and plays well. The quarterback is playing well for them. This is definitely the biggest challenge we've had."

"It's going to be a real big test," said senior Spur Antonio Allen. "They came in here last year and beat the crap out of us. We want to get that taste out of our mouths. We're going to be ready to play."

NOTES, QUOTES

--FS D. J. Swearinger is considered possibly the fiercest hitter on the team. In South Carolina's last two games, he has proven to be a game saver in a different way. Two weeks ago in a road game against Mississippi State, the Greenwood, S.C. native intercepted a pass with time running out and the Bulldogs driving for a potential game-winning touchdown. On Saturday, following an opponent's interception and return to the USC three-yard line, Swearinger again intercepted a pass to allow his team to retain what was a four-point lead at the time.

--Following USC's 14-3 win over Tennessee, freshman TB Brandon Wilds was named both Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week and National Freshman of the Week after rushing for 137 yards and catching three passes for 31 yards. The start was his first, as he filled in for sophomore All-American Marcus Lattimore, who was knocked out for the season against Mississippi State with an injured knee.

--Arkansas has won four of the last five games in the series against South Carolina.

SERIES HISTORY: Arkansas leads South Carolina, 12-7-0 (last meeting, 2010 41-20 Arkansas).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: South Carolina didn't skip a beat on the ground, as it rushed for 231 yards on 53 carries with freshman TB Brandon Wilds leading the way with 137 yards on 20 carries. Due to his lack of activity while watching former starter Marcus Lattimore pull most of the playing time, Wilds got tired during periods in the second half, proving he doesn't have the stamina of his predecessor. To have a chance to beat Arkansas, the Gamecocks will have to find a way to get more production out of its passing game, particularly getting the ball to All-America WR Alshon Jeffery more often.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Gamecocks' defense has gotten progressively better as the season has progressed. The team has held opponents to 7.4 points per game in its last five encounters and 6.0 points in its last three. Three of its last five opponents have scored only three points, as the squad has become one of the nation's best statistically. The Gamecocks have forced 28 turnovers, including 16 interceptions, and limited offenses to 130.2 yards rushing and a nation-leading 135.9 passing yards per game. It held Tennessee to 35 rushing yards on 21 carries. The Vols advanced to the red zone only twice, both off USC turnovers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had a lot of balls designed to go to Alshon, but we couldn't do it. Everybody is frustrated though, all the wide receivers want to catch the ball. We are going to keep throwing, but we are going to keep trying to win the game. The object is to win the game and not to see how many passing yards you can get, and Alshon understands that. We are not out there to just throw at Alshon. We are out here to win the game." -- USC coach Steve Spurrier on South Carolina's inability to consistently pass the football to junior All-America WR Alshon Jeffery.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: South Carolina at Arkansas, Nov. 5 -- The Gamecocks have been playing from behind virtually from the start of this season. The Razorbacks have won nine of the last 13 encounters and four of the last five. South Carolina needs to win the game to stay on top of the SEC East Division.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Pressure Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson. The Razorbacks' offense has not missed a beat with Wilson running the show this season. With a plethora of receivers to go to, the team has been virtually impossible to stop. The Gamecocks lead the nation in pass defense and are second in pass-efficiency defense, but they have not faced an offense as high-powered as the Razorbacks. That means DEs Melvin Ingram, Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney must make Wilson feel constant pressure to force him into hasty decisions.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Connor Shaw -- Holding a meager 7-3 lead in the third quarter last week, South Carolina took possession of the football at its two-yard line. Despite struggling to consistently move the ball to that point, the Gamecocks went on a 20-play, 98-yard drive that took up virtually the entirety of the period. Then, on a third-and-five play at the Tennessee five-yard line and with all receivers covered, the sophomore found an opening and ran into the end zone for a touchdown that gave USC a 14-3 advantage. Although he completed only 10-of-18 passes for 87 yards and was intercepted once, Shaw did a good job managing the game, which was all the team needed to defeat the Vols.

RB Brandon Wilds -- Although he had looked good mostly in mop-up rolls as the backup to All-American Marcus Lattimore, no one knew what to expect from the freshman running back in his new role as starter. Wilds passed with flying colors, rushing 20 times for 139 yards against Tennessee. He could be in for a tougher go against Arkansas this week, however.

DE Melvin Ingram -- Looking like the best defensive player in the Southeastern Conference during the first half of the season, the senior has been quieter since injuring his foot and ankle against Kentucky. Although he has remained in the lineup, he doesn't own a sack in the Gamecocks' last two games. If USC is to have a chance against Arkansas, he needs to put pressure on QB Tyler Wilson. His defensive mates, Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney, must also turn it up a notch.

CB Stephon Gilmore -- A starter in the secondary since he stepped on campus, the junior All-Southeastern Conference performer is playing his best football as a collegian. He had a key third-quarter interception against Tennessee and has picked off passes in two for the Gamecocks' last three games. He will be charged in leading a secondary that will be challenged against Arkansas.

ROSTER REPORT

--WR Bruce Ellington (hamstring) was full-go in Monday's practice after playing sparingly against Tennessee following a tweak of his hamstring during practice a week ago. USC coach Steve Spurrier says he should be 100 percent when the Gamecocks face Arkansas. He is a key part of the offensive attack at both receiver and as a Wildcat quarterback.

--CB C. C. Whitlock is expected to be back and ready to go after missing the trip to Tennessee following a concussion suffered in practice last week. He took part in practice on Monday and Tuesday.

--CB Victor Hampton was already banged up entering Saturday's game and appeared hurt after running into a wall at Neyland Stadium after breaking up a pass. He remained in the game, however, and should be ready to play on Saturday.

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