Lorenzo Ward said it after the Arkansas game, and a review of the game film confirmed it.
South Carolina’s defense was much better Saturday in a 52-7 win against the Razorbacks, but it’s not the 1985 Bears just yet. Arkansas averaged more yards per play than the Gamecocks (6.7 to 6.0), and 19 percent of the 37 plays it ran went for more than 10 yards. The Razorbacks gained 19 or more yards on five plays. To put that in perspective, Florida has given up 18 plays of 20 or more yards this season.
“I don’t think we played completely,” Ward said. “They had a lot of junk yardage.”
USC’s dominance against Arkansas was more of a result of an offense that thoroughly controlled the ball than a defense that has found all the answers. Missed assignments made most of those big plays, and some smaller ones, look easy. On Alex Collins’ 6-yard touchdown run for the Razorbacks, eight South Carolina defenders were on the left side of the midline as Collins ran right.
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Not that the defense didn’t find any answers. Five times, the Gamecocks forced a three-and-out (OK, one was a four-and-out on downs), and Arkansas didn’t have a first down in the second quarter, when the game was decided.
Jadeveon Clowney’s return to the field dominated the television coverage of the game, and Clowney was active in his return despite finishing with one tackle.
Clowney almost had another “The Hit” on the first play of the game. Arkansas ran a toss sweep to his side and pulled the tackle in front of Clowney into the flat to block downfield. Whoever was supposed to block Clowney, either the fullback or the tight end, had no chance get there and Clowney is 6 yards into the backfield and within less than a second of obliterating Jonathan Williams before Williams got outside for a 2-yard gain.
On the second snap, he covered the tight end out on a passing route on an incomplete pass, and on the third snap, he bull rushed David Hurd straight back 6 yards and almost into the lap of quarterback Brandon Allen. For the remainder of the game, the Razorbacks either ran away from Clowney or took advantage of his aggressiveness by running inside or outside of him. Often, the Arkansas blockers, including tackle and tight ends, escorted Clowney away from the play as much as they blocked him.
“I think he showed the effort that a lot of us expect to see from Jadeveon Clowney each and every outing on Saturday,” said ESPN analyst Andre Ware, the 1989 Heisman Trophy winner. “If they can get him to play at this level all the time”
“That’s what has stood out to me. I think the energy level is certainly there from Jadeveon today,” play-by-play announcer Dave Neal agreed.
Other observations from The Tape:
• Victor Hampton was praised, and rightfully so, for his interception on the second series, but the play was very similar to ones Hampton has been burned on this season. He “jumped” the route, which has resulted in one other interception this season but also resulted in him being burned for big plays at least twice.
• The USC offense is bucking the national trend of going fast. The Gamecocks often let the play clock get inside 10 seconds Saturday before snapping the ball. South Carolina had five scoring drives that lasted 4:29 or longer and had two drives of 7:23 or longer. The Gamecocks had 537 yards against Arkansas. Texas A&M had 523 on Sept. 28.
• Mike Davis still is very good. He leads the SEC with 123.7 yards per game.
“He runs like he’s mad. He’s mad at somebody. Boy, you love backs like that, just tough, speed to go along with it,” Ware said. “You give him a crease, he can hit the home run.”
On fourth-and-2 from the Arkansas 7-yard line with 25 seconds remaining in the first half, South Carolina ran its zone read play right at Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith, resulting in a 3-yard gain and setting up a critical touchdown. Rotoworld.com NFL Draft writer Josh Norris told The State last week he expected South Carolina to do that because Smith is overly aggressive with inside pressure.
• Place-kicker Landon Ard making a solo tackle on the first kickoff of the game can’t be the way South Carolina drew it up.