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.
NO. 8 SOUTH CAROLINA 38,ARKANSAS 20:
KO’d in Columbia
Spurrier gets even with Hogs
Arkansas' Dennis Johnson loses a fumble in the second quarter of the Razorbacks' loss to South Carolina on Saturday.
COLUMBIA, S.C. All the factors so prominent throughout Arkansas’ season of unfulfilled promise were on display Saturday in the Razorbacks’ 38-20 loss to South Carolina.
The Razorbacks blew multiple scoring opportunities, had to settle for short field goals and allowed a long fourth-down touchdown pass in a setback to BCS No. 8 South Carolina before a crowd of 78,772 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“Another rough loss,” said Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton, who had another recordbreaking day, but negated his 40-yard catch deep into South Carolina territory on the Razorbacks’ opening possession by drawing an illegal formation penalty.
South Carolina only outgained Arkansas 383-360, but capitalized on Arkansas’ mistakes and won the turnover battle 3-2.
The Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2 SEC) have won 10 in a row at home, 6-0 this season, and can clinch their first undefeated season at Williams-Brice Stadium with a victory next week against Wofford.
South Carolina’s victory over Arkansas was its first over the Hogs since 2008.
“It was good to beat Arkansas, finally,” South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier said. “The last time we beat them I think Bush was president. ... They’re not quite the team they’ve been in the past. Obviously they’ve got some issues and this, that and the other, but it’s still good to beat them.”
Arkansas (4-6, 2-4 SEC) must win its remaining two games to be bowl eligible.
“We get to go to Mississippi State next week and then the following week we’ve got LSU at home,” said quarterback Tyler Wilson, who passed for 277 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. “They’re big games. ... Why not go down there and give them our best shot.”
South Carolina turned a Wilson mistake into a defensive touchdown for the third consecutive season. Wilson’s third-quarter throw for Hamilton on an option route ended up in the hands of South Carolina defensive back D.J. Swearinger, who returned the interception 69 yards for a touchdown and a 31-10 lead.
“They stopped playing after that pretty much,” said South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who had a sack and proved difficult for the Razorbacks to handle.
“I’ve always played the game to be a game-changer, and that was a game-changing play,” Swearinger said. “I think that took something out of Arkansas.”
The Razorbacks’ problems started early. Offensive lineman Jason Peacock tackled Clowney for a holding penalty on the Hogs’ sixth snap, then Hamilton’s illegal formation call negated the 40-yard pass on a third-and-17 that reached the South Carolina 21.
Arkansas was down 7-0 when a roughing-the-passer penalty against Clowney ignited a drive that powered inside the South Carolina 10. Mekale McKay’s 23-yard catch and run put Arkansas on the 14 and two Dennis Johnson runs got to the 5. On third-and-1, Johnson was stacked up, then lost the ball while rolling on top of a South Carolina defender as he stretched his arm out, ball in hand, in an attempt to get the first down. The Gamecocks recovered.
The fruitless drive was Arkansas’ third in a row in the red zone that netted no points.
“We take it up [and] down, get it down there and then we turn it over,” Arkansas Coach John L. Smith said. “That really hurts. You’re playing a good football team like this, you have to get it in.”
Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said the early offensive mistakes proved decisive.
“We just kill ourselves with a penalty, have a chance to score with the first drive,” he said. “Killed ourselves with the fumble, throw a pick for a touchdown. You can’t turn the ball over three times and expect to beat a good team.”
Arkansas settled for field goals on two other possessions that reached the South Carolina 3.
South Carolina attacked Arkansas’ young linebackers A.J. Turner and Otha Peters from the outset, using tight ends Justice Cunningham, Jerell Adams and Rory Anderson down the deep middle on play-action throws.
Cunningham had two catches for 33 yards on South Carolina’s first possession, then Adams broke free down a seam for a 29-yard touchdown catch to put the Gamecocks ahead 7-0 at the 5:47 mark of the first quarter.
“You have young guys in there and they’re going to test those guys and that’s exactly — coming right out of the box — that’s exactly what they did,” Smith said.
Peters was making his first career start in place of Terrell Williams, who drew an indefinite suspension after his Sunday arrest on a DWI charge.
South Carolina pulled starting quarterback Connor Shaw in the fourth quarter, but the Razorbacks went with Wilson the entire game.
“Why?” Petrino said. “Because we’re trying to score points and he’s trying to lead them and he’s our starting quarterback, that’s why.”
Asked if it would have been a good game to get freshman quarterback Brandon Allen some snaps, Petrino replied, “I don’t know. I kept Tyler in, so if you want to criticize me, criticize me. I’m not going to change my answer.”
Sports, Pages 23 on 11/11/2012