David Cloninger looks at the highs, lows and in-betweens of South Carolina’s win over Arkansas.
NO. 14 SOUTH CAROLINA 52, ARKANSAS 7
KICK BACK: Been a while since USC could relax during a game, eh? Sure seems like it, anyway. This one was over as soon as Connor Shaw hooked up with Damiere Byrd for a 45-yard touchdown pass on USC’s first series of the second half. Even with the Gamecocks’ fourth-quarter defense being rather, um, missing, lately, there was no way it was going to give up this kind of lead, especially with the Gamecocks’ offense doing nearly whatever it wanted to do. USC could get some fun back into the game instead of filing fingernails over on the sideline, wondering if that last touchdown was going to do it. As it was, USC’s first touchdown did it.
TCB: With a nod to Elvis (and Bachman Turner Overdrive, I suppose) USC knew what it was facing. Start of a three-game road trip, all in-conference. The Gamecocks had struggled trying to finish comfortable games in their last three contests. USC, for everyone not named Jadeveon Clowney, had to deal with folks talking about it all week, and for not exactly great reasons. So the Gamecocks went out, in a place where they’ve never been particularly competent, never mind stellar, and shredded the Hogs into mustard and vinegar (that’s barbecue proper, never mind that Texas beef nonsense). USC cut Arkansas wide, deep and often, making the fourth-quarter concerns an afterthought by the beginning of the third. They did everything they had to do – answering an early score, getting up by two scores early, getting a turnover, getting the big stands by defense after committing a turnover. They also made some pretty sizable plays (labeled “onions” in other parlance). All questions answered.
HALF A HUNDRED: It seems prudent to mention, since Steve Spurrier will have it stapled to him throughout eternity. Any time his team breaks 50, everybody remembers that day, and that quote. Spurrier only did it once in his first five years at USC. He’s done it four times in his past four.
PICK VIC: Huge play in the game, after Arkansas scored first, and then USC was held to a field goal. Brandon Allen throws to the right and Victor Hampton reeled him in like he was auditioning for Bassmasters. Hampton was kicking himself because he didn’t take the open sideline route on his interception, but the important part was that he got the ball. That gave it right back to the Gamecocks on a short field, and opened the chance for Mike Davis to do Mike Davis things.
GOOD, AIN’T HE?: Davis had another 100-yard game, and moved the pile 7 yards on fourth-and-1. I’m not a Heisman voter, but if I was, he’d at least be on the periphery. He is doing some Cedric the Entertainer-style playing. You know, there have only been four 1,000-yard rushers at USC since George Rogers hung ’em up. There are at least six games to go.
JUST A GREAT BIG BAG OF PLAYS: Shaw hits Nick Jones for 10 yards on third-and-11 on USC’s first drive, then sets up fourth-and-1 and reverses himself when he already had it, to get it again. Shaw bombs to Byrd right out of the gate in the second half, that one-on-one deep threat that has worked so well this year, where Shaw nearly overthrew him until Byrd kicked in the afterburners and ran under it. But clearly, the most important one was just before halftime. With everybody in Columbia standing and screeching, “KIIIIIIIIIIICCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!” Shaw took the field – after an Arkansas timeout to let Spurrier think about it, no less – and calmly picked up the first down, on fourth-and-2. Then he hits Bruce Ellington for a touchdown and a 24-7 lead with 13 seconds to go in the first half. Ashley Shaffer would be proud.
JUST MIGHT MAKE YOU A PHAROH YET: Pharoh Cooper is showing some chops as a freshman. If he can throw the ball, too, perhaps Dylan Thompson has some competition at quarterback next year.
WE’LL PICK YOU UP: Shaw couldn’t get the grip on a handoff to Davis at the 12-yard-line, lost it and Arkansas was poised to take the game’s momentum. Yet, Lorenzo Ward’s defense remembered what it had made it so vital over the past two years. That was not only being good, but being at its best when USC really needed it. The Gamecocks forced a three-and-out, including stuffing Kiero Small on third-and-1. Then when Shaw was sacked to make Tyler Hull punt from his own end zone, USC got another three-and-out when Allen was rushed out of the pocket by Darius English and threw incomplete. Big-time answering by a defense that had been through the wringer all year, and as seen, sometimes when the big plays and big stops occur early, they keep happening late. Arkansas ripped a big run, but fumbled at the end (I think it was a bad call, as it looked to me on replay like the guy was down), and then the Razorbacks fumbled diving for a touchdown just like Tennessee did last week in a loss to Georgia. Momentum is a rolling stone, and after allowing only 37 plays, USC’s defense is a boulder at the halfway point of the mountain.
BANG BANG BANG: Paul Finebaum, or that clapping monkey with the cymbals that we all had as kids, let go of another classless comment about Clowney, which isn’t surprising. That’s what the guy does – insults everybody but Alabama, telling them how stupid they are that they aren’t Alabama. But Ray Tanner was listening, and as has been proven numerous times, Ray Tanner has the severe disinclination to take crap off anybody. Tanner fired back at Finebaum and said he will address concerns about the shock jock to Mike Slive and the SEC, about if they really want that kind of voice on the SEC Network. Who knows if it will work, but Tanner has never been known to give up on an issue that he feels strongly about.
THE SITUATION: USC found out right after its game that Missouri had beaten Georgia, and then found out later Saturday night that Mizzou quarterback James Franklin may be lost for the season. All the Georgia loss did was put the Gamecocks back into a tie with Georgia (and losing the tiebreaker), a tie with Florida and behind Missouri. Each of the last two teams are still on the schedule and Georgia, after losing Saturday, isn’t looking nearly as unbeatable. I’ll go ahead and say that the tiebreakers are so confusing that it’s like Greek (or 7th-grade algebra) to me, so I’ll defer commenting on what it will take until after the Florida-Georgia game. But if USC keeps winning, a 13th game in Atlanta is very, very possible. And I’m not talking about the one associated with a chicken sandwich.THE BAD
DODGED IT, BUT : The fumble on Shaw’s handoff to Davis ended a drive where the game could have swung right back to Arkansas. Did it? No. It was just one of those moments that over the past three games, seemed poised to come back and add to the “USC can’t finish” legacy. Consider that the drive nearly had two other turnovers – Shaw floated a pass that was pick-sixed on any game system imaginable, but the guy couldn’t catch it, and then Shaw fumbled when he was swarmed, but dove on it. None of the too-close or the actual turnovers hurt USC, but it’s those kind of things that will give Spurrier a lot of tape to review when preparing for Tennessee.
FACT OF LIFE: Arkansas had a 79-yard punt on Saturday. It’s an SEC bylaw: “Any punter playing South Carolina will channel Ray Guy.”
SO-SO AGAIN: Special teams continues to be an adventure. Landon Ard, after some very strong performances, left the opening kickoff short of the end zone and kicked another out-of-bounds. The return game had one long gain, and nothing for the rest. The return coverage allowed a long gain, again. Outside of Elliott Fry, who continues to nonchalantly boot field goals, special teams continues to fall into the category of not losing games, but not really helping win them. Perhaps with Cooper playing a bigger role, that will change.
NOT ALL WINE AND ROSES: The defense played well, but still showcased some shoddy one-on-one tackling and some glaring coverage issues in the secondary. The new starters – Rico McWilliams, T.J. Gurley and Chaz Elder – were hit-and-miss. But they did only give up seven points, and those were in the opening minutes of the first quarter. And only 37 plays? That’s Steel Curtain meets the Fearsome Foursome.THE UGLY
THIS SPACE AVAILABLE : Can’t think of anything that was script writer of “Showgirls” ugly this week. A 45-point win covers a lot of wounds.
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