In their final game as cross-division rivals, the South Carolina football team put on a show in Fayetteville against Arkansas, coming away with a 52-7 victory, the largest margin of victory since the two teams started meeting annually in 1992. For the Gamecocks, this is just what the doctor ordered. Following several weeks of disappointing results, Steve Spurrier’s team came alive and set the tone for what could be a very exciting road trip.
Coaches and players will agree that this was the first time this year—or at least the closest that they have come thus far—to playing a full 60-minute game on both sides of the ball. The offense continued its unprecedented success, scoring a season-high 52 points and totaling 537 yards of offense, their second highest mark of the year. Defensively, the Gamecocks played as well as they have this year, significantly slowing a vaunted Arkansas rushing attack and not giving up 15 points in the fourth quarter, as they have done the last three weeks—including 21 points last week to Kentucky.
Interestingly, after being a first half team all year—and particularly getting off to fast starts in the first quarter—the first quarter was South Carolina’s worst of the game, only scoring ten points and allowing Arkansas to score all seven of their points for the game. The Razorbacks came out strong, putting together an impressive 7-play, 64-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead in front of a homecoming crowd of 66,302. The Gamecocks could only muster a field goal in response, after a 13-play drive—their first of five total drives that would exceed ten plays, and the only one that would not result in a touchdown.
Arkansas got the ball back, looking to take a two-possession lead in front of a raucous home crowd, and despite an unsportsmanlike conduct on the kickoff and a holding call, Arkansas looked to be moving the ball. On first and 19, Brandon Allen dropped back to pass, looking to hit a quick hitch route. Unfortunately, Victor Hampton was also looking at the hitch, baited Allen into throwing the pass, jumped the pass perfectly and returned the interception to the Arkansas 6-yard line.
This was the beginning of the end for the Razorbacks. Mike Davis’s 6-yard run on the next play gave him his ninth rushing touchdown of the year and started the rout. Arkansas’s next four drives yielded 18 yards, three punts and one turnover on downs. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks were dominating the line of scrimmage, time of possession, and the scoreboard.
After the Mike Davis touchdown, the Gamecocks next possession saw Connor Shaw lead the Gamecocks down the field, 11 plays and 71 yards, finding a wide-open Bruce Ellington in the endzone for his first touchdown catch of the day and for Shaw’s 40th career touchdown pass (per Scott Hood – Gamecockcentral). After another Razorback punt, South Carolina was moving the ball again, in the midst of an 8-play, 74-yard drive, when a poor exchange between Shaw and Davis led to the Gamecocks one turnover of the game.
The defense remained stout and forced another three-and-out following the fumble, but South Carolina responded with their only three-and-out and only punt of the game. With the ball around midfield, Bret Bielema elected to go for a fourth and four in an attempt to regain some momentum going into the half, but an incomplete Brandon Allen pass gave the Gamecocks the ball near midfield.
South Carolina took full advantage, going 12 plays and 49 yards, as Shaw connected with Bruce Ellington again. Ellington would finish the game with 96 yards and two touchdown catches. At the half, Shaw was an impressive 15/24 with two touchdowns while Davis had ten carries for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Balance. South Carolina continued their offensive excellence in the third quarter, while the defense made a few plays—or got a couple of lucky breaks—and had the game so far in hand by the time the 4th quarter started, that the Gamecocks could not have given up the lead if they wanted to.
On their opening drive of the second half, Connor Shaw showcased his seldom-talked-about deep ball ability, putting a 45-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd on a dime.
Down 31-7 and amassing only 12 yards after their opening drive in the first half, Arkansas needed a huge spark if they hoped to mount a heroic comeback. They looked to have found some life on their next drive when Keon Hatcher took an end around play 50 yards. It was clearly not Arkansas’ day however, as Jimmy Legree chased down Hatcher and, in what was a great hustle play, stripped the ball, which was recovered by Chaz Elder at the South Carolina 21-yard line.
What followed was a demoralizing, backbreaking 15-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that hemorrhaged nine and a half minutes off of the clock. Shaw capped it off with a ten-yard rushing touchdown, his fourth total TD of the day. This would be the last action that the starters saw of this game. Shaw finished 19-28 for 219 yards, four total touchdowns and for the sixth game this year, zero interceptions. Davis had a quiet game by his standards—no 75-yard runs—but had his fifth 100-yard rushing day, finishing with 128 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Dylan Thompson—and for one snap Brendan Nosovitch—and Shon Carson took over the offensive duties and scored 14 more points after the starters left the game, including Thompson hooking up with Kane Whitehurst—an Arkansas transfer—for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
Despite being down for the entire game, Arkansas had a paltry 30 passing yards for the day, with quarterback Brandon Allen finishing 4/12 for 30 yards and one interception. Arkansas exceeded their season average of 216 yards on the ground per game with 218 yards, behind Alex Collins’ 10-carry, 69-yard performance. While Arkansas did get theirs, 96 of those 218 yards came in the fourth quarter when most of the backups were in for South Carolina.
While Steve Spurrier was clearly pleased with his entire team’s performance, even he acknowledged that his team is not this good and Arkansas is not that bad. Regardless, it was an almost perfect start to what could be a season-defining road trip that sees the Gamecocks travel to Neyland Stadium to take on a Tennessee team that almost upset Georgia a week ago. Aside from the one clumsy fumble, a high-ankle sprain suffered by senior right guard may be the only blemish on what was otherwise a perfect Saturday for the Gamecock faithful that also saw Georgia lose to SEC East foe, Missouri.
South Carolina will have to keep a level head, avoid complacency, and continue to get better after a big win unless they want to fall victim to the upset bug, which struck in full force all around the nation on Saturday.
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