Last week, South Carolina improved to 7-1 with a 14-3 victory over Tennessee, the third straight win for the Gamecocks since suffering their lone defeat to Auburn by three points. Steve Spurrier's club hasn't allowed more than 16 points in five consecutive games, proof of its defensive dominance. USC is the defending SEC East Division champion and is currently tied with Georgia atop the standings.
Like the Gamecocks, the Razorbacks enter with a 7-1 record, and they have posted four wins in a row since falling to mighty Alabama in late September. Arkansas didn't expect to be pushed to the limit by Vanderbilt last weekend, and Bobby Petrino's club was fortunate to emerge with a 31-28 victory. Only once this season has Arkansas scored fewer than 29 points in a contest.
"The thing that I'm happy about is we're going home 7-1," said Petrino. "You know, it's been a tough go for our football team when you look at going on the road at Alabama, in Dallas against Texas A&M, and one home game, at Auburn, two more on the road. I'm proud that we're coming home 7-1."
The Razorbacks own a 12-7 series advantage over the Gamecocks, which including victories in each of the past two meetings.
Connor Shaw did very little throwing the ball for South Carolina against Tennessee last week, as the quarterback completed just 10-of-18 passes for 87 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Alshon Jeffery, widely regarded as one of the more talented receivers in the nation, made three catches for 17 yards and is being wasted in this offense. Fortunately, the ground attack was highly productive for the Gamecocks in the team's first game without injured star Marcus Lattimore. Freshman Brandon Wildcats ran for a career-high 137 yards on 28 carries, and Shaw added 64 yards and a score on 16 attempts.
"We're not a very good passing team right now, that's the way it turned out," said Spurrier after the win. "I'm not much of a passing coach any more, but we're 7-1, somehow. That's the most important thing. Had a lot of possession time there in the second half and finally made a bunch of third downs. Our defense was super."
That defense stifled the Volunteers, who were only able to post 186 total yards and 10 first downs. The Gamecocks were tremendous against the run, yielding a lowly total of 35 yards on 21 attempts, and two interceptions were registered by South Carolina.
Overall this season, the Gamecocks are generating 30.1 ppg and 388.2 total ypg, numbers that have been good enough to earn the squad a top-10 ranking. Still, not many points have been scored in recent weeks, and the fact that Lattimore won't be coming back this season doesn't help matters. Shaw has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 582 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, and Jeffery has 33 grabs for 468 yards and five scores.
Opponents are generating 17.1 ppg and 266.1 total ypg against South Carolina, which has been tremendous against the pass, limiting opposing quarterbacks to barely 50 percent completions with 16 interceptions. The run defense has been tough as well for the Gamecocks, who have a number of standout performers in the fold. Melvin Ingram is a player to watch, as he has 5.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions to his credit.
"You can't get frustrated winning," said Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright, who had 10 catches for 135 yards in last weekend's narrow win over Vanderbilt. "You can get frustrated by not starting out like you expect your team to do. We know how good we are. We expect to start faster. We expect to play way better than we played."
In that tilt, the Razorbacks finished with 388 total yards and could have topped 400 if not for losing two fumbles. Because Arkansas only ran for 72 yards on 26 carries, QB Tyler Wilson was under more pressure to perform. He completed 27-of-43 passes for 316 yards with one TD.
Wilson's squad is averaging 36.9 ppg this season while gaining 452.9 total ypg, and he has thrown for 2,327 yards and 13 TDs with only three interceptions. The signal caller has an injured hand but is expected to be on the field this weekend. Wright has recorded 44 receptions for 709 yards and seven scores, and he is clearly one of the top pass catchers in the SEC.
It was surprising to see a rather mediocre Vanderbilt offense rack up 462 total yards against Arkansas. The Razorbacks surrendered 222 rushing yards at a clip of 5.3 yards per carry, and three rushing scores were notched by the Commodores. The fact that Vandy also gained 16.0 yards per pass completion is troubling.
That shaky defensive effort pushed Arkansas' points against average to 22.5 ppg, and the club is allowing 396.1 total ypg. There is room for improvement against both the run and the pass, and the sack total of 11 needs to increase significantly. Jerry Franklin continues to be the most active member of the defense, as he paces Arkansas with 68 total tackles, including 9.5 TFL.