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Coming unraveled: Hogs handle Gamecocks

Arkansas' Jerell Norton intercepts a pass intended for USC freshman wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Arkansas' Jerell Norton intercepts a pass intended for USC freshman wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. | About the only positive to come from Arkansas' 33-16 thrashing of South Carolina on Saturday was there was no evidence of finger-pointing outside the losing locker room.

This was the epitome of a team loss.

USC's defense gave up a season-high in passing yards and total yards, and the offense unraveled in the third quarter. Throw in a botched extra point and a couple of questionable coaching decisions, and there was plenty of blame to go around following the Gamecocks' third loss in four games.

"We're just not real good right now. I don't know how else to say it," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "Coaches are coaching their butts off, just not getting much results right now. Maybe all the good fortune we had earlier is catching up with us a bit. ... We're not quite good enough to beat a good team like Arkansas."

USC (6-4, 3-4 SEC) managed 16 points against an Arkansas defense that entered the game giving up 27 per game, next to last in the SEC. It was the fewest points surrendered by the Razorbacks (5-4, 2-4) in an SEC game in Bobby Petrino's first two seasons.

Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia said the offensive game plan was sound, but the execution was poor.

"Obviously, scoring 16 points is not really executing very well," Garcia said.

As was the case in last week's 31-13 loss at Tennessee, the Gamecocks stacked up well with Arkansas everywhere on the stat sheet but the scoring column.

USC had two trips inside the Razorbacks' 5-yard line - on its first and last drives of the game - that produced three points. Another promising drive ended when Garcia was picked off in the end zone - a play that started a disastrous stretch for the Gamecocks.

Trailing 17-16 but driving midway through the third quarter, Garcia looked to freshman Alshon Jeffery on a first-down fade route at the Arkansas 27. The two hooked up for an 80-yard touchdown on USC's first snap of the second half, but their timing on the fades has been off in recent weeks.

Garcia released the ball too early, and Jeffery was unable to go up and wrest it away from the Hogs' Jerell Norton. Garcia said opponents appear ready for the fade.

"I think defenses have seen us do it so much they're sprinting back there and making plays," Garcia said. "Those are the kind of plays that turn momentum, and it did. And it just spiraled downhill from then."

After Broderick Green's 2-yard touchdown run increased the Razorbacks' lead to 24-16, the Gamecocks gave Arkansas two more points less than two minutes later with a safety on a first-down play from the USC 32.

Garrett Anderson's shotgun snap sailed past Garcia, who raced back and tried to fall on the ball at the 5. But it squirted into the end zone, where USC tailback Brian Maddox fell on it.

"Looked like Garrett snapped it a little high and hard," Spurrier said. "It just went right through his hands with pretty good velocity. That was about a 40-yard, 2-point play there."

The Gamecocks did not threaten again until their final drive, which stalled at the Hogs' 4 with 1:44 remaining.

Meanwhile, a USC defense missing starting defensive end Cliff Matthews and safety Chris Culliver tired in the second half.

Playing a deep zone and mixing in the blitz, the Gamecocks held SEC passing leader Ryan Mallett to 169 yards in the first half, 108 of which came on two short swing passes his receivers turned into long gains.

After Spurrier said USC became "way too conservative" with its offensive play calls near the end of the first half, Arkansas took advantage with a 69-yard catch-and-run by tight end D.J. Williams to the USC 7 with six seconds left. Alex Tejada's 24-yard field goal made it 10-all at the half.

"Other than the two dumb plays, we did a helluva job in the first half," USC assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said. "The second half they got the running game going and physically we couldn't hold up."

The Gamecocks failed to force a turnover for the third consecutive game, and Mallett completed 23 of 27 passes for 329 yards - the most surrendered by USC this year. Johnson's defense also allowed a season-worst 405 total yards.

"We had a lot of fun out there today. I thought we started out kind of slow, but got it going a little bit in that second quarter," Mallett said. "We knew they couldn't slow us down if we got it going, and that wound up being true."

Garcia nearly matched Mallett with a career-high 327 yards on 20-of-34 passing. But the Gamecocks were done in by a series of crucial mistakes that looked familiar to Anderson, the senior center.

"This is stuff we've been doing for years. This is stuff we've been doing as a team since freshman year," Anderson said. "We had a decent showing in the first half, gave up a few big plays. Then we stopped playing after the first half. If we wanted to do anything to say we had a decent year, it was to beat these two teams (Tennessee and Arkansas)."

Instead, USC will have to beat No. 1 Florida or rival Clemson to avoid a late-season collapse for the third year in a row.

"We've got a great team coming up next week, we've got a bye week, then we've got our rival team," Anderson said. "We've got at least two games where we can at least bring something back to this season."

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