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October 9, 2013
Razorback head coach Bret Bielema says winning is learned. Last weekend against Florida, for the most part, the defense played a solid game and gave the offense windows to get back in the game. They'll get another crack at it this Saturday against No. 12 South Carolina.
Arkansas has been in each of the last two games going into the fourth quarter, but they have not been the better team in the end. Against Texas A&M, it was 38-33 going into the fourth. Against Florida, it was 24-10. Here's another example of not knowing how to win came against Rutgers. Arkansas was up 24-14 going into the fourth quarter, but Rutgers scored twice more to string together 21 unanswered points and win 28-24.
A blanket concern for Arkansas has to be the differing levels of experience between the two programs this weekend with No. 12 South Carolina coming to town. Arkansas is showing flashes here and there, but they have yet to put together all three phases at the same time for four quarters.
"They don't make many mistakes. They're a run team, they're going to set up the pass," Razorback linebackers coach Randy Shannon said following Wednesday's practice. "Coach [Steve] Spurrier for years has been known as a guy that can throw the football, but if you look at all the offenses that he's had over the years at Florida and South Carolina, they do a great job of running the football to get an opportunity to throw the football."
It starts up front
As a program, that seems to be where South Carolina is now, a veteran bunch that knows what winning is about and how it is accomplished. The Gamecocks have won 31 games the last three seasons. The offense starts with four returning starters on the offensive line.
"Veteran group," Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. "They're big, athletic, veteran group guys that have been around, played. It's going to be a great challenge for us."
Hog defensive ends Trey Flowers and Chris Smith have more sacks than any other end tandem in the SEC, and Smith leads the conference with six. Flowers has missed a game but still has four sacks. Both starters return at defensive tackle, and there are some budding stars at both spots in the redshirt freshman class.
Arkansas played well against Florida's front on defense and gave the Hog offense four stops in-a-row late in the game, but they could not punch it in late on the Gators. The Razorback defense gave up just 355 yards to Florida, including just 115 on the ground with a 2.8 per-carry average.
USC is spreading the ball around nicely at wide receiver to players who are returning from playing experience a year ago, especially do-it-all man Bruce Ellington. Three receivers have 13 or more catches.
"They're all very similar," Ash said. "[Ellington is] probably the best of the group at least statistically. They're going to be a challenge. All three of those guys are quick."
Ellington goes 5-9, 196. Fellow starting receivers Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones are 5-9, 166 and 5-7, 174, respectively.
"They're all small and quick. We just have to keep our eyes on them and play our technique correctly," UA cornerback Jared Collins said.
The veteran QB
Senior Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw has over 6,000 total career yards. He has completed 66 of 96 passes (68.8 percent) for 927 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions with 60 rushes for 282 yards and another score. In short, he is on pace statistically to have the best statistical season of his four-year career.
"He can beat you with his feat, as well as his arm," Ash said. "He does a great job of extending plays with his feet. He can escape pressure. We're going to have to bring pressure, going to have to get to him, but we're going to have to make sure we tackle him, too."
Davis leads the SEC
Sophomore tailback Mike Davis has exploded onto the scene with an SEC-leading 122.8 rushing yards per game, a 6.7 per-carry average and eight touchdowns.
"He's not overly big. He's 5-9, 215, but runs hard," Ash said. "Hard to tackle, has got great feet in the open field, can make you miss. He does an outstanding job of running what they ask him to run on film."
He has rushed for over 100 yards in four of five games this season, including 149 and a touchdown against Georgia. He opened the season with 12 rushes for 115 (9.6 yards per carry) with a touchdown against North Carolina.
"He does a tremendous job of moving his feet [after contact]," Shannon said. "And that's going to be a big challenge for us on defense to make sure that we wrap up. We've got to drive our feet when we make contact, also."
"He's hard to bring down," Smith said. "I remember playing him last year a little bit. As far as when I watched the North Carolina game and the Georgia game, he's a great running back and kind of compares to [Marcus] Lattimore with how hard he runs."
"He's very good out there in space, so he's very shifty with his moves," UA linebacker Martrell Spaight said. "You just have to go and breakdown and be good with your feet and make sure you drive your feet because he gets yards after contact."
Two of Arkansas' three starting linebackers had limited to no experience before this season, but Spaight, a junior college transfer, is coming off his first start and may be the most talented linebacker on the team. This was the first time this combination of linebackers was used, a group the Arkansas coaches feel make for their most talented threesome.
"I enjoyed the experience of going out there to Gainesville, and I felt as if I went out there and did my job and tried to bring some energy into the defense," Spaight said. "You have to be very disciplined because sometimes you want to run in and try to make the play but sometimes you have to stay outside to make sure the ball cuts back in, so it's a very disciplined position. I just have to go out there with the mindset that it's a team effort."
Competition at corner
With Will Hines out at cornerback, Arkansas returns two players in the secondary with significant experience, a unit that has struggled at times this year regardless of experience. Last weekend they gave up 240 yards and three touchdowns to a quarterback making his second start. He was 16 of 22, also (72.7 percent). Collins, a redshirt freshman, and junior college transfer Carroll Washington are battling for playing time at the spot.
"We're getting our divided reps between the ones and twos," Washington said. "It's been intense just pushing each other to get better because at the end of the day we're still teammates. He's going to push me like I'm going to push him."
"It's been very competitive," Collins said. "It's been fun. We're both just working hard to get out on the field."
Collins came out of the spring as the starter ahead of Hines but gave way to him during fall camp. Collins has made seven tackles in five games this season, and Washington has made three stops in six games with a pass breakup.
"Still up in the air," Ash said. "Right now, Jared probably has the upper hand. But both of them have been practicing, and we'll decide that tomorrow."
Arkansas' safeties haven't been physical, and a lot of that has to do with the slow recovery of strong safety Rohan Gaines, who is a big-hitter on defense. Gaines is splitting reps with Turner, but all throughout spring and fall camp Gaines was the unquestioned starter at strong safety.
"I started at nickel, and me and Alan Turner rotated at safety," Gaines said. "He went a series, I went a series."
The Hogs are scheduled to wrap up Thursday's practice at approximately 6 p.m. Saturday's game kicks off at 11:21 a.m. (CST) and will be televised by the SEC Network.