Comeback Falls Short for Gamecocks, 26-20

In a dramatic battle of back-up quarterbacks, Casey Dick out-dueled Blake Mitchell as #12 Arkansas defeated USC 26-20, giving USC their fourth close loss of the season to a ranked SEC opponent.

Arkansas came into Williams-Brice stadium with one of the top five rushing offenses in the nation. They didn't do anything to hurt their rushing average, and they also looked like one of the top passing offenses too, rushing for 267 yards and passing for 228 more as they defeated USC.

Sophomore quarterback Casey Dick came in to replace true freshman starting quarterback Mitch Mustain after Mustain threw an early interception right to USC cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. It was Mustain's only pass of the game, as Dick completed 11-for-19 for 228 yards and led the Razorbacks to 23 first half points, including a 50 yard "Hail Mary" touchdown pass to Marcus Monk with two seconds left before halftime.

USC held Arkansas to three points in the second half, but could not overcome the points given up in the first half to win. Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix said, "We have to be smarter (referencing the tipped ball when Arkansas scored at the end of the first half.) In the first half Arkansas did different things they hadn't shown before. They showed a lot more speed. We played a little better in the second half."

Mitchell replaced USC starting quarterback Syvelle Newton after an ineffective first half, and looked like a prototype Steve Spurrier quarterback in his first serious playing time in seven games. He completed six of eight passes on a scoring drive of 92 yards, capped by a 13 yard touchdown pass of 13 yards to Kenny McKinley. After an interception by Carlos Thomas in the end zone that he returned for one yard ended an Arkansas drive, Mitchell then drove the team 99 yards down the field for another touchdown, this one cumulating with a 10 yard pass to Sidney Rice for the score.

Arkansas then drove down to the USC 23 before stalling, and Jeremy Davis missed a 41 yard field goal attempt, leaving the door open for a winning drive by USC. It was not to be. Mitchell drove the team down to the Arkansas 41, and then attempted a throw into tight Arkansas coverage which was picked off by Darius Vinnett. Arkansas then ran out the final 5:05 of the game.

Spurrier said that Mitchell will play against Florida next week, and implied he may start. He said after the game, "Blake Mitchell played as good a half as any quarterback I've ever had except for one throw. He had to play perfect, and he didn't quite. Blake is a good passer, he was relaxed. In the end, they switched and played zone. He played beautifully until the last play. I mean, 90 and 95 yard drives, what more can you say?"

Mitchell recorded his first passing statistics since the Florida Atlantic game September 23. He completed 15 of 21 passes for 213 yards, all in the second half.

"I was down on myself, but I just hung in there." Mitchell said. "I knew I was only one play away." Arkansas cornerback Vinnett said about USC's decision to play Mitchell, "That was just a big switch, to put a drop back passer in. We had been running a lot of man coverage, so in the second half we just had to mix it up a bit."

Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden was as good as advertised, rushing for a career-high 219 yards and two touchdowns. Felix Jones ran 21 times for 53 yards. McFadden has now gained more than a 1,000 yards in each of his two seasons with Arkansas. Marcus Monk also had a career night, making eight catches for 192 yards for the Razorbacks.

Sidney Rice caught seven passes for 126 yards and a touchdown and Kenny McKinley also had seven catches for 87 yards for the Gamecocks. Rice talked about returning to form: "It feels good, but we didn't come out on top and so it doesn't feel good.. Everybody was amped up. Blake Mitchell was throwing well. Tonight he was ready to roll and Coach told him at half time to go get it."

Spurrier was realistic after the game. "That play at end of first half that was stupid. We have to stop saying we are unlucky. That was just bad. We don't make those kind of plays and that's why we're losers. Our guys played their hearts out, but to win against good competition we have to do better. I just ask the fans to hang in there with us. One of these days… Hopefully we have better players on the way, and we have a bunch of young guys who are playing very well for us."

South Carolina remains a win away from bowl eligibility with an emotional game with Florida coming up as coach Steve Spurrier returns to coach at The Swamp for the first time since leaving the Gators after the 2001 season.

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