SEC nemesis Arkansas struggles through rough season

jkendall@thestate.comNovember 6, 2012 

  • GAMECOCKS VS. RAZORBACKS WHO: USC (7-2, 5-2 SEC) vs. Arkansas (4-5, 2-3) WHEN: Saturday, noon WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium TV: CBS RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5 SATELLITE RADIO: Sirius 91/XM 91 LINE: USC by 14

South Carolina fans whose vision is limited to what the Gamecocks do each fall will be surprised when Arkansas visits Saturday.

The Razorbacks, perennial South Carolina tormentors and recently SEC title contenders, have hit the skids. Seven months after the motorcycle accident and subsequent scandal that cost former coach Bobby Petrino his job, Arkansas is reeling under interim coach John L. Smith.

The Razorbacks are 4-5 overall and 2-3 in the SEC and have embarrassing losses to Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama (52-0) on their resume this year. However, Arkansas has won three of four and is buoyed this week by the sight of the No. 12 Gamecocks, Smith said, because the Razorbacks have dominated the rivalry.

Arkansas is 13-7 all-time against South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) and has won three in a row in the series. That momentum will give the Razorbacks much-needed confidence, Smith said.

“It’s a tradition, and we want to go back and we want to look at some of the things we have done in the past,” Smith said. “We want our players to know that we play good against these guys, and we match up pretty good against these guys. So we want to emphasize those things. We want our guys to understand that traditionally, it comes back to tradition, traditionally we play hard and play well against these guys.”

Quarterback Tyler Wilson is one of the few bright spots for Arkansas. He leads the SEC with 315.8 passing yards per game, and he also thinks the Razorbacks’ history of success against USC will be a factor Saturday.

“I think (the players) understand what’s happened the last few times that we’ve played them,” Wilson said. “Same players, they’ve been there. We went to South Carolina last time and got a big win. We were here last year and got a big win. So, they know that we’re going to come in and battle. We’re not laying down against these guys.”

While Wilson has been a rare bit of sunshine, the problems for the Razorbacks have been myriad. It starts with turnovers. Arkansas is 112th in the nation in turnover margin with 21 giveaways and 10 takeaways.

Arkansas running back Knile Davis argued during SEC Media Days in July that he was the best back in the conference, and it didn’t seem a far-fetched notion. But Davis hasn’t even been the best back on his team this year. He has carried the ball 100 times and averaged 3.4 yards per carry, while Dennis Johnson has rushed 105 times for 598 yards. Davis is questionable this week due to a hamstring injury.

Injuries have been the third pillar on which Arkansas has built its disappointing record. Wilson missed the Alabama game due to a concussion, starting the spiral, and the Razorbacks will be starting their fourth middle linebacker this week due to a combination of injury and suspension.

“Sometimes in sports it goes bad early, and you don’t understand quite why,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said of the Razorbacks. “Sometimes that ball bounces funny. They still are a very good team, very capable of beating about anybody they play, I think. The little bit I have seen, they look a lot like they did last year and the year before when they really played super against us.”

Spurrier and Smith express a mutual admiration.

“He’s a good man, good coach, does a great job,” Smith said. “He’s a good golfer apparently. Which I can’t stand guys that are good golfers and good coaches. But no, he’s a good guy. Good guy in the profession.”

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