Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
No relief in sight
Arkansas takes long SEC losing streak to No. 1 Alabama
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema leaves the field after an NCAA college football game against South Carolina in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. South Carolina won 52-7. (AP Photo/April L. Brown)
FAYETTEVILLE Since leading 24-7 at Rutgers three weeks ago, Arkansas has been outscored by an astounding 98 points.
The meat of the schedule has been tough to digest for a team that filled up on cupcakes in the first three weeks of the season. Arkansas' loss margin has swelled from 4 at Rutgers to 45 against South Carolina on Saturday.
And with No. 1 Alabama licking its chops next weekend, there appears to be little rest for the weary. The Crimson Tide are 6-0 following a blowout win at Kentucky and have given up just one touchdown in four games.
Any positives Bret Bielema saw in the first five games have been undone in the last seven quarters, when Florida and South Carolina combined to outscore the Razorbacks 82-10. Arkansas' offense hasn't adjusted to defensive adjustments and its defense has been picked apart like a Christmas ham.
South Carolina didn't just win Saturday, it dominated the Razorbacks in a way we haven't seen a Steve Spurrier team do since the 1990s. The Gamecocks won the battle on both lines and looked two steps ahead in their play-calling.
As the game wore on, the gap between the two programs looked as wide as the distance between their campuses.
Arkansas never stopped South Carolina in the Gamecocks' final five possessions, including four after halftime. The Razorbacks, who led the country in fourth quarter time of possession just a month ago, had the ball only 5 minutes, 28 seconds the entire second half and snapped the ball just 30 times after its opening drive.
The Gamecocks averaged more than 5 yards per run and nearly 11 yards per completion. South Carolina averaged a first down every 2.8 plays.
Arkansas looked prepared early, converting a third down and scoring on a 64-yard drive after the opening kickoff. But when the opening script ran out, the Razorbacks couldn't move the ball.
South Carolina held Arkansas to 184 yards the rest of the game - 124 of which came on three runs by Keon Hatcher, Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins in the second half. Two of those runs ended in fumbles recovered by the Gamecocks.
The Razorbacks had 2 passing yards after halftime and only 30 total. Brandon Allen came within 6 yards of his third interception returned for a touchdown this season. It might as well have been when Mike Davis ran it in one play later.
South Carolina represents a team built to the specification Arkansas hopes to one day become. The Gamecocks win with their defense and their potent offense is predicated on opening up the pass with a strong run game.
The difference is the Gamecocks have recruited to that style for years, while the bulk of the Razorbacks' team was recruited to play for a team featuring a spread offense and a weak defense. South Carolina, like Florida last week and Alabama next week, is a gauge for how far the Hogs have to go.
The Gamecocks were the favorite Saturday, but no one could have envisioned Arkansas being so bad at home. The 45-point loss was the program's second-worst ever at Razorback Stadium, behind only a 52-point loss to Alabama a year ago.
A winless conference season doesn't seem too far-fetched after performances like that.
The Razorbacks have lost seven straight conference games and 10 of their last 12. Just two years removed from a school-record 11 wins, Arkansas has fallen behind the elite in the SEC to an extent only rivaled by its infant years in the conference.
As South Carolina showed, Bielema has a long way to go before making Arkansas a contender again.