Spurrier previews Arkansas
To be more specific, the main storyline is the disparate paths the two teams have taken on defense. The defensive rankings for South Carolina could hardly be much better. The Gamecocks are third in the nation in total defense (250.7 yards per game), tops in the SEC. Carolina is in the top half of the conference in nearly every defensive category, while Arkansas is last in the SEC in scoring, rushing, and total defense (378.0 yards per game, 78th in the nation). The Razorbacks manage to rise all the way to tenth in the SEC in pass defense. Despite what the numbers say, Spurrier is not taking the Razorbacks lightly.
"They were pretty much a man-to-man, bump and run team [last year], and now they play a lot of coverages," he said. "They play a bunch of different zones and zone blitzes as well as man-to-man. They probably play as many defenses as anybody we play this year."
Still, the Gamecocks have to expect to be able to move the ball on Arkansas. If there is a concern about the Razorback defense, it is their ability to get pressure on the quarterback. That pressure was the key to Arkansas' ability to shut down the explosive Tulsa offense last week. Compounding matters, the Gamecocks have given up 31 sacks this year, tied for most in the league with Arkansas.
"They're a very aggressive bunch," Spurrier said. "I think they sacked the Tulsa quarterback the first two plays of the game last week. They're a pretty good defense, not the best in the league, but they've made a lot of plays. They got an interception late in the game to put it away. They're a good bunch. They'll give our offensive line all they can handle."
The numbers clearly favor the Gamecocks defensively. Arkansas, though it has improved of late, is still just fifth in the SEC in total offense and ninth in scoring offense. Curiously, much like the Gamecocks, the Razorbacks are struggling offensively despite having a highly ranked passing game. Carolina is third in the SEC in pass offense and Arkansas is second.
The Razorbacks have long been a thorn in the Gamecocks' side, going back to 2001 when the Hogs upset #9 Carolina in Little Rock, or as recently as last year. In that 48-36 Arkansas win, Darren McFadden, who now plays for the Oakland Raiders, rushed for a conference record-tying 321 yards. That defensive meltdown continued over the final two games of the season and led to the departure of defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix to Ole Miss and the eventual hiring of Ellis Johnson.
"There at the end, we had to do something different, whatever it was," Spurrier recalled. "I didn't want to let Tyrone leave, but I felt like we needed to have some new direction on defense. It worked out that Huston Nutt called and wanted to bring him back, and it worked out really super for everybody."
Johnson's arrival did not go as smoothly as Nix's departure, of course. Brian VanGorder was hired first, and Johnson took the job at Arkansas. When VanGorder decided to remain with the Atlanta Falcons, Johnson left Fayetteville to come to Columbia, to be replaced by Willy Robinson. What could be a major storyline full of hard feelings is instead just another quirky tale of the coaching carousel.
"We haven't talked about that," said Spurrier. "They were just in the recruiting process the two or three weeks he was there."
The Gamecocks and Razorbacks will kick off at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. The game will be available on a pay-per-view basis throughout the state of South Carolina and on ESPN Gameplan across the rest of the country.
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