COLUMBIA, S.C. – Arkansas started out the season in the top 10. Now the Razorbacks are one more loss away from being out of a bowl game for the first time in four seasons, after losing to No. 12 South Carolina 38-20 on Saturday.
Mistakes doomed Arkansas (4-6, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) this time.
Tyler Wilson threw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. On their first drive, the Razorbacks had a 40-yard completion on third-and-17 called back for an illegal formation. And the Hogs fumbled once.
"Give South Carolina credit," coach John L. Smith said. "They're a good football team. They didn't make any mistakes or few compared to us."
Smith isn't ready to give up on the season, even with Mississippi State and No. 9 LSU remaining.
"We're going to continue to fight. That's what we're going to do these remaining two weeks of the season," Smith said. "We'll remain together. We're going to continue to work hard."
Cobi Hamilton caught four passes for 72 yards, giving him Arkansas' season receiving yards record at 1,149 yards. Wilson was 26-of-41 for 277 yards, while Jonathan Williams ran seven times for 61 yards.
But each time they had a shot to stay in the game, the Razorbacks "stubbed our toe," Smith said.
First came a fumble by Dennis Johnson as he tried to stretch for a first down at the South Carolina 5 early in the second quarter with the Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2) ahead 14-7.
"We get it down there and when you are playing a good football team like this you have to get it in. That would have made the complexion of the first half totally different," Smith said.
Trailing 21-10 at the half, Arkansas held South Carolina to a field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter and started driving down the field, aided by back-to-back personal foul calls against Gamecocks free safety D.J. Swearinger.
But on the next play, Swearinger picked off Wilson, running it back 69 yards for a TD that essentially put the game away with South Carolina up 31-10. For good measure, Swearinger threw the ball into the stands after his scored, picking up his third straight personal foul, calling it a "stress reliever."
"I think the pick six was the momentum changer," Smith said. "It was a game of mistakes."
Arkansas had beaten South Carolina three straight times and five out of the last six. But Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier didn't really revel in the win, saying his own team played good enough to win, but not as good as he would have liked.
"They aren't the team they have been in the past. They obviously have some issues," Spurrier said. "But it is still good to beat them."
Spurrier also said he felt sorry for Arkansas' players because they don't know who their coach will be next year. Smith was given a 10-month contract in April after Bobby Petrino was fired for hiring his mistress to a position in the Arkansas athletic department.
Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw threw for two touchdowns and ran for another score, going 15-of-23 for 279 yards. Bruce Ellington had five catches for 104 yards, while Kenny Miles ran 14 times for 37 yards and caught three passes for 44 yards. The senior was the main running back Saturday, replacing Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a horrendous knee injury against Tennessee.
Even down 38-13 late in the fourth quarter, Arkansas didn't give up. Wilson stayed in the game, leading the Razorbacks on a 58-yard touchdown drive capped by an 8-yard TD pass to Jonathan Williams. Arkansas then tried an onside kick with 39 seconds left. It bounced a couple of times and rolled to a stop after only eight yards, and the team couldn't recover it.
Hamilton said the team will be back next week, playing hard to try to get that bowl bid.
"We're a family and want to finish the season strong," Hamilton said. "We want to finish the season as we started. We're together as a team and we'll get ready to play Mississippi State next week."