By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 12th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks continue their final three-game home stand on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in SEC action.
Arkansas came into the season with high expectations and a top-10 ranking, but it got off to a dreadful 1-4 start. The Razorbacks have righted the ship somewhat in recent weeks, winning three of their last four games, including 19-15 last week against non-conference foe Tulsa. While facing off against South Carolina seems like a difficult task, UA has an impressive eight-game win streak against teams from the SEC's Eastern Division.
South Carolina has had an otherwise fantastic season derailed by a pair of tough road losses to LSU (23-21) and Florida (44-11). While the Gamecocks' hopes of playing for the SEC championship were shattered, a strong finish to the season would benefit them in terms of qualifying for an at-large bid to a BCS bowl.
"I think we started the season (ranked) No. 8 in the preseason and we're actually No. 8 in the BCS right now," head coach Steve Spurrier said of the state of his team. "So we've had a good year. Not a great year, but not a bad year, just sort of a good year right now. We certainly hope to finish strong the last four games."
Arkansas leads the all-time series with South Carolina, 13-7, which includes wins in three straight seasons.
Considering the expectations for the offense coming into the season, the fact that the Razorbacks rank ninth in the SEC in scoring (26.1 ppg) is a disappointment.
Tyler Wilson had preseason Heisman aspirations, and while that dream will not come true, he is still having a stellar season, throwing for more than 315 yards per game with tossing 16 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Wilson is the owner of 26 school records, including career completion percentage (.621).
With 11 receptions last week against Tulsa, Cobi Hamilton now has a school- record 69 catches on the season. He leads the SEC in receiving yards 1,077 and he ranks fourth nationally by gaining 119.7 ypg.
Dennis Johnson (598 yards, eight TDs) has taken over as Arkansas's feature back in recent weeks with great success. He has rushed for at least 100 yards and two touchdowns in back-to-back games, becoming the first Razorback with two straight 100-yard rushing games since 2010.
On the season, UA's defense has not played well (29.1 ppg), but in its last three wins it has surrendered an average of only 9.7 ppg. The unit held a powerful Tulsa offense to just 328 yards a week ago.
"It was really good to see the defense put the game on their back and step up and win it ... we can build on all of those things," head coach John L. Smith said following the win.
Ross Rasner has been the team's best defensive player with 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and three interceptions. Chris Smith is one of the best pass rushers in the league with eight tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and 10 QB hurries.
South Carolina's offense has been strong this season, scoring 32 ppg, but it will be without star running back Marcus Lattimore (662 yards, 11 TDs) for the rest of the season after he suffered a brutal knee injury against Tennessee. As unfortunate as the situation is, it's becoming a familiar one for Spurrier and company, as Lattimore missed the majority of last season with a knee injury as well.
"It was a similar situation here last year when Marcus got hurt," Spurrier said. "We do have some very good players behind him. Kenny Miles will be our starting tailback. We're going to miss Marcus, but we have two good backs that will fill in admirably."
Miles has just 42 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown on the season. Mike Davis (24 carries, 157 yards, TD) is also expected to see work out of the backfield.
No Lattimore means that Connor Shaw will need to be an even bigger part of the offense. He threw for a career-high 356 yards and three touchdowns against Tennessee, giving him 1,388 yards and 12 TDs (five INTs) on the season. Shaw is also the team's most experienced rusher left, having gained 311 yards and two scores on the ground.
Ace Sanders (24 receptions, 270 yards) and Bruce Ellington (23 receptions, 366 yards) have put up modest numbers at receiver, but Shaw looks to them in the red zone as the two have combined for eight touchdowns.
The defense had a mini-breakdown against Tennessee by allowing 35 points, but South Carolina still boasts one of the conference's best defenses (18.3 ppg, 303.2 ypg).
Jadeveon Clowney is one of the most feared defensive players in the country, and he's racked up 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks on the season. Shaq Wilson has a team-high 54 tackles, and with two interceptions and a fumble recovery, and he has accounted for three of the team's 14 takeaways.
It will be interesting to see how the Gamecocks respond without perhaps the best running back in the nation in their lineup, especially against an improved Arkansas defense. Still, South Carolina's defense is top notch and it boasts enough talent on offense to take care of the Razorbacks at home, where it has won nine straight contests.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Carolina 27, Arkansas 20
11/07 10:35:52 ET
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