The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Two of the better teams in the SEC will collide in Columbia this weekend, as the 18th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks play host to the 17th- ranked Arkansas Razorbacks.
Victories in each of the last two games has enabled the Razorbacks to move to 6-2 overall and 3-2 in league action. The only two losses to date have come against Alabama and Auburn, two of the nation's truly elite teams. Last weekend, Arkansas crushed Vanderbilt by a 49-14 final.
"Games like this challenge your maturity and poise," said head coach Bobby Petrino after the Vanderbilt win. "I thought we prepared like we should have all week and prevented having a letdown this week, which I thought was very possible."
As for South Carolina, it has been nationally ranked for nine consecutive weeks, the program's longest such streak since 2001. Just like the Razorbacks, the Gamecocks have posted two straight wins to improve to 6-2 overall. Last weekend, coach Steve Spurrier's team treated the home crowd to a 38-24 victory over Tennessee.
"It was a good day for the Gamecocks," said Spurrier. "A good win for us. We didn't play extremely well. We had some really ridiculous, dumb plays today, especially the fake punt. With the game close, our guys found a way to pull it out."
Arkansas holds an 11-7 series edge over South Carolina, which includes a 33-16 triumph over the Gamecocks last season.
Petrino's Razorbacks feature a high-powered offense that accounts for 487.4 total ypg, and the team is generating 35.0 ppg. Of the 34 offensive touchdowns that the team has mustered, 22 have come via the pass. Ryan Mallett is undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, as the strong-armed signal caller has connected on 66.4 percent of his passes for 2,449 yards and 18 touchdowns against seven interceptions. There are a few talented receivers in the fold, and Greg Childs is tops 46 catches for 659 yards and six touchdowns, but a bad knee has him listed as questionable for this weekend. As for the ground attack, Knile Davis leads the charge with 552 yards and six touchdowns.
Even with Childs limited against Vanderbilt and fellow receiver Joe Adams out of action, Mallett was able to rack up a career-high 409 passing yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Jarius Wright stepped forward with an impressive effort, hauling in six receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
"The coaches depended on me with Joe Adams out and Greg Childs limited," said Wright. "I felt like everyone was depending on me and that I needed to go out there and make some plays."
Opponents are scoring 22.2 ppg against Arkansas, which is yielding 330.9 total ypg. The Razorbacks are giving up nearly the same number of rushing yards (163.1 ypg) as passing yards (167.8 ypg), and of the 21 touchdowns that have been surrendered to opposing offenses, 12 have come on the ground. Arkansas has posted a solid total of 24 sacks to date, and Jake Bequette leads the charge with five sacks. Jerry Franklin is tops with 59 total tackles.
Arkansas was able to hold Vanderbilt to 1-of-11 success on third-down conversion attempts, and with a pair of interceptions to go along with four sacks, the defense obviously made plenty of big plays in the contest. The Razorbacks yielded a mere 153 total yards in the tilt, including just 36 passing yards on 6-of-17 efficiency.
South Carolina has some formidable offensive weapons in the fold, as quarterback Stephen Garcia, tailback Marcus Lattimore and wideout Alshon Jeffery have all done their part to help the team average 30.6 ppg and 407.9 total ypg this year. Garcia has completed 70.6 percent of his passes for 1,904 yards and 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions. The signal caller has made plays with his legs as well, posting four rushing touchdowns to date. Lattimore, just a freshman, has rushed for 722 yards and 11 scores, while Jeffery has hauled in 52 receptions for 935 yards and seven touchdowns.
Against Tennessee last week, South Carolina achieved tremendous offensive balance, rushing for 212 yards while passing for 223 yards. Garcia threw a touchdown pass to Jeffery and ran for a pair of scores, while Lattimore ripped off a career-high 184 rushing yards and a touchdown.
"Our line gave Stephen [Garcia] some good time back there," said Lattimore. "Alshon [Jeffery] made a play, and I made a couple plays. It was big for the offensive line to play the way they did."
Opponents are generating 19.5 ppg and 360.0 total ypg against South Carolina, which has played solid defense for the most part. Stopping the run has been key for the Gamecocks, who have limiting foes to 100.1 ypg at a clip of 3.0 yards per carry. Of the 17 touchdowns that South Carolina has surrendered to opposing offenses, only four have been rushing scores.
The Gamecocks permitted 404 total yards to Tennessee, 312 of which came through the air. Three passing scores were allowed by the Gamecocks, who were much more formidable against the run, yielding a mere 92 yards on 37 attempts.