On to Arkansas

The University of South Carolina Gamecocks are headed into a place where they have historically not played well - Fayetteville, Ark. A look at the matchups between the two teams should tell us the story of the game...

The Arkansas Razorbacks enter the game with a 2-5 record. Carolina is sporting a surprising 5-3 record, courtesy of the upset win in Knoxville this past weekend. The two victories currently posted by Arkansas come courtesy of Missouri State and Louisiana Monroe. They have been handed losses by Southern Cal (#1), Alabama (#4), Georgia (#10), Auburn (#18 ) and the unranked Commodores of Vanderbilt.

The Gamecocks and the Razorbacks have both played (and lost to) Georgia, Alabama and Auburn. However, USC managed to defeat Vandy while Arkansas was not as fortunate. Arkansas is coming off of an open date which accounts for the one game lead on the Carolina calendar. It will be interesting to see which factor has a greater outcome on the game this Saturday; an open date or a victory against a major player like Tennessee.

Let's look at offenses:

After having the security of solid quarterbacks the past few years, Arkansas currently finds itself without a proven threat in that position. Matt Jones is gone. The fact that he was one of the best in the conference during the 2004 season will clearly make him sorely missed. In his place is Robert Johnson.

Matt threw for over 2,000 yards last year. He averaged 188 yards a game. Johnson is averaging approximately 110 yards a game through the air. Matt Jones was also pretty efficient in the air as he averaged a touchdown for every 10 passes he threw. Contrast Johnson's average of one touchdown for every 30 passes. Arkansas has scored a total of six touchdowns through the air so far this year. He has also thrown eight interceptions. Another key indicator of Johnson's abilities is the fact that despite having one of the best offensive lines in the conference, he has still managed to get sacked 11 times this year. That statistic has been good enough to land Johnson a second place standing for that dubious record in the conference.

Despite certain shortcomings from their quarterback, there is no doubt that Arkansas' primary offensive strength is their running game. True freshman, Darren McFadden has made his case for SEC Freshman of the Year in the past few weeks. McFadden finds himself behind a solid offensive line that has helped propel him to the number four position in the league. He has been instrumental in placing the Razorbacks number one in the SEC for rushing yardage. Arkansas currently puts up an impressive 256 rushing yards a game. McFadden managed to rack up 190 yards against a tough Georgia squad and nearly managed the upset.

The Arkansas squad can be expected to to run the ball twice for every pass they attempt against the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier's team should be prepared for at least 50 rushes in the game with McFadden leading the way most of the time. When he isn't, look for Felix Jones, (another true freshman), to pick up the slack. Felix is currently the 11th-ranked running back in the conference. He sports a 7.3 yard per carry average and has over 430 yards thus far on the season. Behind Jones is the 15th-ranked back in the conference, De'Arrius Howard. Howard, a senior, has over 380 yards for the season, but has not touched the ball in the last two games.

On defense:

In short, the 2005 Razorbacks can't seem to stop anyone or anything. They appear to be totally ineffective in every venue and find themselves ranked 10th in the conference against that pass and 11th against the run. Their defensive strategy appears to rest squarely on the shoulders of the offense: in other words, if the offense can score often, the defense doesn't need to be good. This is never a good strategy for any conference, particularly the SEC.

With a nearly non-existent throwing game, the Hogs are forced to get it done on the ground. Unfortunately, this is not a well-kept secret and has allowed all opponents to force their hands, particularly near the end zone. The Hogs have been forced into field goal attempts eleven times this year. They are 58% from the redzone as they have graced the area 28 times with only sixteen successful bids at the six points.

Odds are, they will not fare any better against the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier's team has established themselves as one of the stouter red-zone defenses in the conference. One could reasonably predict the Hogs movement will be between the 20's on Saturday and primary scoring will see additions by three rather than by sevens.

The Gamecocks, on the other hand, are one of the most efficient red zone teams in the conference. They have scored 17 touchdowns out of 24 trips to the red zone. Throw in the Razorbacks' 11th-place red zone defense and we begin to see one of the potential game-defining differences.

Special teams and intangibles:

South Carolina has played an aggressive defense that has created scoring opportunities. The critical interception and fumble recovery during the Tennessee game illustrates how important such actions are to this team. For the year, the Gamecocks have taken the ball away 16 times, compared to the Razorbacks' 12.

Turnovers is another area of significant difference between the two teams. The Gamecocks have turned it over 14 times in eight games while the Razorbacks have handed it over 16 times in seven games.

Put it all together and what do we have?

The Razorbacks will run the ball. After that, they'll run the ball. And then they'll switch things up and run the ball.

Don't be surprised if they have 140 yards rushing by halftime. McFadden has had a run of at least 35 yards in his last four games. Youth and inexperience will rear its ugly head as well as we'll see the Hogs not quite able to take advantage of all that running ability. Further complications will be added as their inability to convert those third downs (34%) will continue to force the boys from Arkansas into desperate fourth down situations. Another dubious honor currently owned by the Razorbacks as they have faced sixteen fourth down situations to date. Typically, you can expect a 30 yard burst followed by an eight yard stall.

They will make a lot of noise. They always do. And, because of our weakness against the run, they will keep it close. However, their inability to pass, their self destructive tendencies inside the red-zone, and an ineffective defense should be factors that come together and result in a Gamecock victory and yes ... Bowl Eligibility!

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