FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks could dominate the possession clock Saturday in Columbia, S.C. ,much like they did last Saturday in Fayetteville yet not necessarily 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. (CDT) Saturday on the SEC Network from Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., 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, ranks 12th in the 16-team league in yards allowed yet in five games has allowed fewer 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 to South Carolina’s 23:19.
Since then nonconference the Gamecocks edged Louisiana Tech, 17-16, and in the SEC split with East rivals Missouri, a 31-13 victory in Columbia, Mo. and a 23-13 loss to Kentucky in Columbia, S.C., and 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 just by 10 points.
How have the Gamecocks done it, Muschamp was asked 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 lockdown 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 the 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.”
Bielema cited improvements in all phases of Arkansas’ game against New Mexico State but said quarterback Austin 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.”