Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
LITTLE ROCK OFFENSE Quarterback
(169 of 279 for 2,526 yards, 16 TDs, 8 interceptions) is producing strong numbers for Arkansas in an up-and-down season in which the running game has just gotten cranked up and his younger receivers have been inconsistent. Wilson leads the SEC with 315.8 passing yards per game, and his 149.82 efficiency rating is fourth in the SEC and 27th in the nation. Wilson, with 513 career completions, needs just 16 to surpass Clint Stoerner for Arkansas’ career lead. The Razorbacks are No. 22 nationally in passing (305.4 ypg).
has battled shoulder, rib and foot problems, but he projects to start for South Carolina after resting a sprained foot during the open week. Shaw (106 of 160, 1,338 yards, 12 TDs, 5 ints.) is averaging 167.2 passing yards per game. His efficiency rating of 154.99 is No. 22 in the country. Shaw is South Carolina’s top healthy rusher with 311 yards and 2 touchdowns.
has completed just 47.9 percent (35 of 73, 593 yards) of his passes, but has thrown 5 TD passes to 1 interception. South Carolina ranks 70th nationally in passing (227).
has had his first back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, and Arkansas’ ability to run against the Gamecocks’ No. 14 rushing defense could provide critical balance. Johnson (105 carries for 598 yards, 8 TDs, 5.7 yards per carry) finally took over the team lead for attempts from
(100-340, 2, 3.4) last week. Davis is questionable with a sore hamstring that kept him out against Tulsa.
Johnson rushed for 86 yards against South Carolina last year.
(32-150, 4.7 ypc) has shown great vision and instincts for a freshman and has been dangerous catching balls out of the backfield. Arkansas is No. 99 nationally with 123.6 rushing yards per game. With no
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina will turn to
(42-149, 1 TD, 3.5 ypc), true freshman
(24-157, 1, 6.5 ypc) and
Brandon Wilds, who has been hurt this season. The Gamecocks were the nation’s No. 78 rushing offense (145.1 ypg) with Lattimore and the number is likely to drop without him.
(69 catches for 1,077 yards, 4 TDs) needs just 41 yards to surpass Jarius Wright’s 1-year-old Arkansas record of 1,117 yards in a season. Hamilton, 1 of 4 players in the FBS with 4 100-yard games, broke Wright’s single-season receptions mark last week. He’s averaging 119.7 yards per game, tops in the SEC and fourth nationally. The next-most receptions by a healthy Arkansas player is 13 by
(193 yards), who has no catches the past 2 games.
(11-135, 2) fumbled away a catch last week, and
(10-171, 3) missed a would-be big gainer on a flea-flicker.
(7-104) contributed on Arkansas’ game-winning touchdown drive last week. Tight ends
(1-6, 1) fill in for injured Chris Gragg.
(24-270, 5) and Bruce Ellington (23-366, 3) lead the Gamecocks in receptions since the injury to Marcus Lattimore (26-173).
(12-303, 2, 25.2 ypc) and tight end
(12-235, 5, 19.6 ypc), who scored twice against East Carolina, are both big-play threats. The starting tight end is
Line Arkansas’ line has drawn heat for subpar run blocking, but the group is 35th nationallywith 1.4 sacks allowed per game, and it fronts an offense that ranks No. 46 with 429 yards per game.
started last week at strongside tackle for
Jason Peacock, who did not play by coach’s decision last week, but is slated to return today. Juniors
and Travis Swanson are the interior anchors, flanked by the senior guard
and senior tackle David Hurd on the quick side. Steve Spurrier’s transformation to smash-mouth offense is nowhere more evident than in this front, which averages 6-5, 320 pounds, easily the biggest line for an Arkansas opponent this year. The group is young, with center
(6-6, 319 pounds) the lone senior. The gargantuan tackles are sophomore
(6-8, 337) and redshirt freshman Brandon
(6-6, 331). The smaller guards are sophomore
(6-4, 309) and junior
(6-2, 305). The Gamecocks rank No. 86 nationally in total offense (372 ypg) and they’re No. 97 in sacks allowed (2.7 per game).
DEFENSE Line Arkansas’ top ends
(37 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 10 hurries) and
(28, 7, 4.5, 7) are quietly putting up strong statistical seasons. Flex lineman
(14, 1 fumble recovery) has played well lately. The defensive tackle group featuring
(36, 1 sack, 3 hurries, 1 fumble recovery),
(30, 2 TFL, 1 hurry),
(19, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks) and
(15, 4.5, 2) was bolstered by the return of
(14, 4 breakups, 1 blocked kick) last week. Arkansas is No. 24 nationally (121.4) vs. the run. South Carolina’s front four will be the most talented Arkansas has seen since Alabama’s, and the Gamecocks are the SEC’s sack kings with 3.3 per game.
(40, 15 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 4 hurries), a 6-6, 256-pounder and likely 2014 NFL first-round draft pick, leads the way.
(28, 6, 2.5) had an interception return for a score against the Hogs last year. The top tackles are
(30, 6, 2.5), who is back from shoulder and punch-throwing suspension issues, and
(25, 4, 2). Chaz Sutton (17, 6, 4) is an impact performer at end off the bench. The Gamecocks rank No. 14 (104.6) against the run.
Linebackers True freshman
(14 tackles, 0.5 sacks) is set to make his first start in the middle for Arkansas, alongside classmate
(30, 1 tackle for loss) in his fourth start. Team tackle leader
(67, 5.5 TFL, 3 interceptions, 5 pass breakups) will take occasional linebacker snaps and will help the younger players with defensive calls.
(5) is the top reserve behind Turner, while
(1), who has been mostly a special teamer, will back up Peters with senior
(52) suspended indefinitely for his DWI arrest. Arkansas is No. 72 in total defense (413.9 yards per game). The Gamecocks are led by
(54, 3.5 TFL) who has 2 ints., 3 hurries, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble. Middle linebacker
(43, 1 sack) has forced 2 fumbles and recovered 1.
(40, 6.5, 2, 2 ints.) has played the “Spur” spot, but is likely to be at strongsafety today as South Carolina has juggled its secondary to prepare for Arkansas’ passing attack. Top reserves are
(37, 3, 1) and
(19, 2.5 TFL). South Carolina ranks No. 12 in total defense (303.2). Secondary Tighter coverage, along with a better pass rush, has helped Arkansas climb from near the bottom of the heap in pass defense to No. 97 in efficiency.
(19 tackles, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups) has learned on the fly as a true freshman corner making his seventh start. The return of cornerback
(26, 4 PBU) has helped calm the air raids that marked early season losses. Versatile
(26, 5 PBU), freshman
(6) and senior Darius
(5, 1 PBU) are the top reserves in cover roles. Freshman safety
(61, 1 PBU, 1 hurry) ranks second on the team in tackles.
(29, 3 PBU) has endured an injury impacted junior year.
Arkansas is No. 112 in pass defense (292.4 yards per game). South Carolina practice reports indicate
(40, 5 PBU) is likely to move from free safety to a corner spot to help out
(37, 2 int., 6 PBU), who had a leg injury in the opening week and struggled in coverage vs. Tennessee.
The other starting corner is
(30, 6 PBU). Brison Williams (38, 1 int., 4 PBU) is likely to move from strong to free safety. Senior cornerback
(11) is dealing with a groin injury and is questionable. The Gamecocks are No. 36 in pass efficiency defense and No. 27 in pass defense (198.7 ypg).
Special teams Punter
came roaring back from an off performance with a 58-yard average last week to soar to No. 6 nationally and the Hogs are No. 22 in net punting (39.9).
Dennis Johnson, the SECs all-time kick return yardage leader, has had trouble handling kickoff returns recently, and his average is suffering with three returns shorter than the 10 in the past 2 games. The Razorbacks are No. 110 nationally with a 17.9-yard kick return average.
provided a spark to punt returns, where Arkansas is No. 81 (7.3 average), last week.
made 2 of 3 field-goal attempts vs. Tulsa, but his 26-yard miss in the clutch was troubling.
is a dangerous punt return man for South Carolina with a 15.9-yard average that ranks No. 6 nationally and a 70-yard touchdown return against Georgia. The Gamecocks’ kickoff returns (19.8) rank 84th, only slightly better than the Hogs.
has a 39.1-yard punting average that is 80th, and the team is No. 89 in net punting (35.3). Kicker
is 7 of 10 with a long of 51 yards, and he’s had two field-goal attempts blocked.
Intangibles Arkansas should be full of confidence with its three-game winning streak against South Carolina in tow. The Razorbacks won their last outing on the road at Auburn, but Williams-Brice Stadium will be a tougher venue today. Arkansas lost the turnover battle again last week, continuing a season long trend, and if it happens again today, the Razorbacks will have little chance to pull the upset. South Carolina will make its first appearance since the devastating injury to All-SEC tailback
Marcus Lattimore, so the Gamecocks are likely to be sky-high early.
The health of quarterback
’s sprained foot could be a big key. Coach
has called on the team’s fans to treat Arkansas like top rivals Georgia, Tennessee and Clemson in an effort to put an end to their losing streak to the Hogs. Circumstances favor South Carolina, which cannot afford a sloppy game with ball security.
Key match up
Arkansas blocking and protections against South Carolina’s defensive front
The Razorbacks have been solid pass blockers for quarterback Tyler Wilson, and the line has to keep him upright today against a talented Gamecocks’ line led by ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor.
Sports, Pages 22 on 11/10/2012