Do you remember the old Alka Seltzer commercial – plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is? What a relief it was to finally see South Carolina's football team play a complete game.
While it was by no means perfect, the 52-7 romp of Arkansas allowed the Gamecocks to showcase their potential.
Often statistics do not tell the whole story, but this was not one of those times. Carolina had 537 yards of total offense to the Razorbacks' 248; first downs were 32 to seven; rushing yards 277 to 218; passing yards 260 to 30; and time of possession 43:25 to 16:35.
Coach Steve Spurrier did not have a stat sheet as he began his post game press conference, so I handed him mine. The stat that really caught his attention? Total plays. Arkansas had just 37.
“That is the least any opponent has ever had,” he said. “Thirty-seven, that's the fewest I've ever seen – I think I can say that – in college football.”
As always, I'll be honest with you, when the Hawgs opened the game with a very efficient seven-play, 64-yard touchdown drive, I was wondering if it was going to be a “here we go again” afternoon. When the Gamecocks had to settle for a 33-yard Elliott Fry field goal, on their first possession, I didn't feel a whole lot better.
One play changed the momentum of the game.
Cornerback Victor Hampton, benched at the start the game because of his poor play against Kentucky, intercepted Brandon Allen's pass and returned 21 yards to the Arkansas 6. Mike Davis scored on the next play, and the air of confidence the Razorbacks had, to that point, started to fizz like an Alka Seltzer.
“He was either in our huddle or knew we were going to run that play, there's no doubt,” Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said of Hampton's interception.
There were some other positives among the stats. Quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson didn't throw a pick, and the Gamecocks lost just one fumble by Mike Davis, who despite that miscue had another solid day with 128 yards on 19 carries.
There were a number of pleasing aspects about the game. The second offensive line played several series, giving them some valuable experience. Thompson kept his backup quarterback skills sharp with a 4-of-5 passing performance, including a 15-yard TD pass to Kane Whitehurst, who began his career at Arkansas. Third-string QB Brendan Nosovitch capped off USC's scoring with a 7-yard TD.
Coach Spurrier put the overwhelming stats into perspective.
“Obviously our team played the best game we have all year. Sometimes its all a little misleading. We're not that good, they're not that bad. It really worked out for us today.”
That's it in a nutshell. This was meant to be Carolina's day, in this last trip to Arkansas, as Texas A&M will replace the Razorbacks as USC's permanent opponent from the west. It will, I believe, be at least eight years before Arkansas rotates back on the schedule.
There are a couple of things that come into play here. First, what's happened to Arkansas' is an example of what two years of average recruiting can do to a program. When Bobby Petrino was fired in April 2012, and Arkansas embarked on the ill-fated John L. Smith experiment that led to a 4-8 season, that basically killed two recruiting classes.
To begin with, Arkansas' 2012 class was ranked 34th with two 3-star-rated signees. The 2013 class was ranked 27th with four 3-star-rated players. Kentucky was the only SEC program that finished behind Arkansas in the rankings those two years.
Coach Spurrier spoke to it. “Bret and his guys will have to recruit their way out of it.”
Secondly, when you convert an offense from one that was known for throwing the ball all over the park, into one that is predominately run-oriented, it means a change in recruiting philosophy. A look at Arkansas wide receivers reveals only one over 6-foot-3, and he's a 6-foot-4 freshman. It's obvious they were recruited for their speed, rather than for their blocking ability.
The Arkansas fans I spoke with after the game overwhelmingly voiced their support for Bielema, but the realistic among them conceded that this transition is not going to happen overnight.
All this said, it's time to move on to Tennessee, another program that has had its coaching and recruiting issues in recent years. It is also a team, over which the the Gamecocks should have a talent advantage and should play well against, especially if they play anything like they did in Fayetteville.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!