Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Gamecocks pack a 1-2 punch on offense
South Carolina running back Mike Davis (28) celebrates his touchdown with Connor Shaw (14) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
FAYETTEVILLE Saturday's game between Arkansas and South Carolina will feature arguably the league's best running back-quarterback combination this season.
Gamecocks sophomore running back Mike Davis and quarterback Connor Shaw are each having breakout seasons, combining to average 407 yards of total offense per game for South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC). The Gamecocks are on pace for a school-record for total offense and are averaging 31 points per game.
Davis leads the league in rushing yards per game (122.8) and has scored 8 touchdowns on the ground.
"He's got good patience in their run game," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "They definitely use him in all different types of situations, in the return game as well, all-purpose, catching. He's a good player. He runs hard, he breaks tackles. He's got a good sense of the ball and knows where he needs to be."
The 5-foot-9, 215-pound running back has filled the shoes left by departed all-SEC back Marcus Lattimore. Davis' best game came two weeks ago, rushing for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns in a comeback win over Central Florida on the road.
"He's not real big, but he runs hard," Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. "He's got good speed in the open field and can make you miss. He does an outstanding job of asking what they ask him to run."
South Carolina will test the Razorbacks' run defense once again this week. After giving up 262 yards on 44 carries against Texas A&M, Arkansas held Florida to 115 yards on 41 carries last week.
"It will be a big challenge if we can line up and take their best shot," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said, "because that’s sort of the way they play football and it’s going to be important that we can run the ball the way we’ve been capable and hopefully, continue running and mixing in passes and so forth."
Davis has been complemented this season by a strong performance from Shaw, who is 21-4 as a starter entering Saturday's game. The senior is completing 69 percent of his passes and hasn't thrown an interception.
He is the third consecutive dual-threat quarterback the Razorbacks have faced. Johnny Manziel (320 yards total offense, 2 touchdowns) and Tyler Murphy (255 yards, 3 touchdowns) led their teams to wins.
"It's going to be huge to contain him," Ash said. "He does a great job of extending plays with his feet. He can escape pressure. We're going to have to do a good job of bringing pressure, but make sure we tackle him, too.
"We've got to tackle in the open field. We didn't do a very good job of that last week."