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Gameday preview: USC vs. Arkansas

Stephen Garcia gives instructions to the line against S.C. State.
Stephen Garcia gives instructions to the line against S.C. State.

Injury report; five game storylines; five questions with wide receiver Tori Gurley; and more.

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Injuries

USC - DE Cliff Matthews (shoulder), FS Chris Culliver (shoulder), FS Jarrett Burns (finger) and OT Jarriel King (concussion) are out.

Arkansas - CB Ramon Broadway (hamstring) is questionable; RB Michael Smith (hamstring) is probable.

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FIVE GAME STORYLINES

November to remember

Steve Spurrier went on the defensive this week, bristling at the suggestion that last week's loss at Tennessee might be the start of another late-season swoon. Spurrier pointed out all the young players seeing action for the Gamecocks, and said his team would be an underdog in each of its remaining three games. USC will try to avoid going 0-4 in road conference games with a win in Fayetteville.

Air show

With the SEC's two top passing offenses squaring off, most are expecting a wide-open, high-scoring game at Razorback Stadium. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, the transfer from Michigan, leads the SEC with 2,148 passing yards and 18 touchdown throws. USC's Stephen Garcia is behind him with 2,094 yards, and will take aim at a Razorbacks' defense ranked among the nation's worst against the pass.

Rip it and pick it

USC's defense has gone two weeks without forcing a turnover, and has 13 takeaways this season, tied for next to last in the SEC. The Gamecocks have dropped a number of interceptions, but will get a lot of chances for picks against Arkansas, which averages 34 passes a game.

Kick it away

After nine games, the Gamecocks' SEC-worst kickoff team remains a sore spot. USC kicker Adam Yates has one touchback, while the Gamecocks have allowed two returns for touchdowns covering 99 and 100 yards. That does not bode well against the Razorbacks, who lead the conference with a 27.5-yard kick return average. Yates would be wise to kick away from Ryan Johnson, third in the league at 29.1 yards per return.

Banged-up defense

Facing an Arkansas team averaging 49 points in Fayetteville, this is a bad week for USC to be missing two defensive starters. Cliff Matthews, who has five sacks and eight tackles for loss, is out with a shoulder injury. Safety Chris Culliver, the team's third-leading tackler, was left off the travel team because of a shoulder injury and a disciplinary issue. The defense was banged-up for its 2007 trip to Fayetteville, when Darren McFadden tied an SEC single-game record with 321 rushing yards.

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Game within the Game

QB Ryan Mallett vs. S Akeem Auguste

About Auguste: The sophomore from Florida shifts from cornerback to free safety this week to replace Culliver. The 5-10, 180-pound Auguste played both positions as a freshman before focusing on corner this season after the departures of Carlos Thomas, Captain Munnerlyn and Stoney Woodson.

How he'll win: Auguste is an aggressive player who ranks among USC's top seven tacklers despite missing three games due to suspension. In limited action last season, Auguste was not afraid to sacrifice his body for a big hit on a receiver. But with Mallett's strong arm, Auguste must be careful not to gamble too much and let the Razorbacks' wideouts get behind him.

Key number: 2, number of USC free safeties sidelined for the game; backup Jarrett Burns (finger) also is out.

About Mallett: The redshirt sophomore leads the SEC in passing yards (268.5) and total offense (268.6) and is second behind Florida's Tim Tebow in passing efficiency. The 6-foot-7 Mallett, who played one season at Michigan before transferring, is a pure pocket passer who is not afraid to take chances downfield. Mallett has thrown a touchdown in every game and leads the conference with 18 touchdown passes.

How he'll win: With a 400-yard passing game against Georgia, Mallett proved he can exploit an overmatched secondary. The key for Mallett will be getting rid of the ball in time against a USC defense that will try to come after him with All-SEC linebacker Eric Norwood and others.

Key number: 658, days Mallett went between games after transferring from Michigan before his Arkansas debut against Missouri State on Sept. 5.

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Five Questions with Tori Gurley

No. 81 receiver Rock Hill

Gurley, whose father played basketball at Virginia Tech, took a circuitous route to USC while getting his academic requirements in order. The redshirt freshman is the Gamecocks' third-leading receiver with 25 catches for 368 yards.

You've had to take a step back with Alshon Jeffery's emergence. How have you dealt with that?

In life everyone has bumps in the road. Anyone could easily just go down the drains about losing their spot. With me going through everything I went through in the past, I just looked at it for an opportunity to go out and still play hard, and hopefully, go out and make plays for the team. Things have really worked out. Both Alshon and I are very successful. I really don't have anything to complain about.

You mentioned your past trials and tribulations. What was your lowest point and was there a time when you thought football wasn't going to work out?

Probably when I purchased a ticket to watch Alabama-Birmingham play. That's the first I've purchased a ticket to go watch a college football game. I've been fortunate enough to have tickets left at will call from coaches or players. That really inspired me to go out and be the best football player I could be.

What were you doing in Birmingham?

I was taking care of my grandmother at the time, and I was watching Alabama-Birmingham play on television. I was working at the Home Depot (before he went to prep school in New Hampshire). I decided to go out to a game just to feel the atmosphere because I was missing the game of football. When I went into the stadium I was in tears. ... When Brett Favre was talking about that itch, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

I know you have a strong basketball background. Who's on your intramural team?

If we put a team together, most likely it'll be Alshon, myself, Cliff Matthews, Darian Stewart and Melvin Ingram. We're very talented in basketball.

Who's the big scorer in that group?

Darian Stewart is a scorer. But if you're looking for a basketball player, I'll have to go with myself. I had the opportunity to play both sports at North Carolina, and that came from just being a complete player. I'm not very flashy. I'm just a guy that's going to get it done and find a way to win.

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Person's Prediction: Arkansas 31, USC 27

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