FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas Razorbacks could dominate the possession clock Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina, much like they did last Saturday in Fayetteville. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they will again emerge victorious.
Arkansas possessed the ball 41:35 of the game’s 60 minutes, comfortably defeating the New Mexico State Aggies 42-24 in last Saturday’s nonconference game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
At 3 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network from Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, the Razorbacks, 2-2 overall, 0-1 in the SEC West, clash with the hosting South Carolina Gamecocks, 3-2 overall,1-2 in the SEC East.
The Gamecocks’ defense has been left on the field for 378 snaps, the most of any SEC team. They rank 12th in the 16-team league in yards allowed, yet in five games they have allowed less points, 104, than Arkansas has in four, 109.
How can the Gamecocks of Coach Will Muschamp, the former defensive coordinator at LSU, Texas and Auburn and former Florida head coach, be on the field so long yet scored upon so little?
“They are efficient,” Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said. “I know a little bit (time of possession) depends on the type of offenses they are playing, but the good news for them is they are not giving up big plays. They just don’t give up those big, big hits. I think the biggest thing obviously Coach Muschamp has brought is his demeanor and personality and attitude. He’s always been a great defensive coach, and that’s showing up more and the longer time he’s there.”
The most points that South Carolina has allowed was in its 35-28 season-opening victory against a good, 4-1 North Carolina State team of the ACC.
Yet the losing Wolfpack possessed the ball 36:41 minutes to South Carolina’s 23:19.
Since then, the Gamecocks edged Louisiana Tech 17-16, and in the SEC split with East rivals Missouri, a 31-13 victory in Columbia, Missouri, and a 23-13 loss to Kentucky in Columbia, South Carolina.
They lost 24-17 last Saturday at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, to the hosting Texas A&M Aggies of the SEC West.
Texas A&M previously outlasted Arkansas, 50-43 in overtime at a neutral site, the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.
Only against Missouri has South Carolina dominated the possession clock, yet obviously held its own at 3-2 against five FBS teams, with the largest loss by just 10 points.
How have the Gamecocks done it? Muschamp was asked that very question on Wednesday’s SEC Coaches/Media teleconference.
“Well, I think until last week we played pretty good red zone defense,” Muschamp said. “We've been pretty opportunistic (four interceptions, five recovered fumbles and blocking one kick). We need to continue to try and create turnovers for ourselves. But we've been really good in the red zone and forced people to kick field goals. I think that's the key.”
But in their two losses they paid a price, Muschamp said, for the key not turning the lock on third down.
“We've got to do a better job on third down,” Muschamp said. “You look back at Kentucky, a little bit of A&M, we didn't get off the field on third down.”
Muschamp said the Gamecocks’ offense hasn’t sufficiently done its part in staying on the field long enough for their defense to get some rest.
“We've got to get more production,” Muschamp said. “We have to protect the quarterback better. At A&M we got whipped up front. That’s just telling it like it is. And we’ve missed seven field goals.”
In its 28-7 loss to TCU, the Hogs’ defense was able to keep it 14-7 until the game’s final three minutes. They paid a price for not getting the Horned Frogs’ offense off the field on third down.
Arkansas offensively accelerated against both the Texas A&M Aggies and New Mexico State Aggies.
Razorbacks running backs David Williams, the former Gamecock, Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden have picked up their game with improved run-blocking up front.
Senior starting quarterback Austin Allen, despite absorbing six sacks from Texas A&M, completed 12 of 25 for 229 yards and two touchdowns against the game-ending overtime interception against.
He excelled sack-free against New Mexico State, overcoming an interception early to complete 19 of 26 for 264 yards and three touchdowns.
Bielema cited improvements in all phases of Arkansas’ game against New Mexico State but said Allen was most improved of all.
“We’ve seen him play good football, but toward the last half of the game from the time he threw that pick on it was one of his better games,” Bielema said. “Very efficient with his throws. He understood where the ball was going, dedicated to spread it around to a lot of new faces. To see some new guys get a new experience was very, very good to see, and I hope it continues forward.”
The Razorbacks concluded preparations Thursday with a light, closed practice and will fly today to South Carolina.