The Gamecocks season is at a crossroads as they return home for a match up with the Arkansas Razorbacks. South Carolina has lost two of their three games, and has an offense currently stuck in neutral. They have failed to score more than 17 points in the last three games. For the second week in a row they will face a team with a struggling defense, hoping this time to capitalize.
Coach Bret Bielema’s team comes in feeling pressure of its own. The Razorbacks are 2-2, and lost their SEC opener to Texas A&M. Senior quarterback Austin Allen leads the offense, but Arkansas has had trouble protecting him this season. Allen is throwing for less than 200 yards per game, and has been sacked nine times in their two losses. In the preseason it was the thought that the Razorbacks would open up the offense with Allen this year. However, through four games they haven’t gotten the passing attack going yet. The Razorback’s are at a crossroads as well, between sticking to its changes for a more pass happy offense, and relying on the running game like past seasons.
The Hogs’ defense has looked good in two wins over lesser opponents, but gave a combined 862 yards against A&M and TCU. They switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme this season and are still ironing things out. In addition to its issues protecting their own QB, Arkansas hasn’t sacked their opponent’s signal caller much. They have just seven sacks through a quarter into the season. Texas A&M’s defense was struggling until last week when they held the Gamecocks to just 17 points. The Razorbacks will look to take advantage of a struggling offense and get their defense back on track.
Like most Bret Bielema teams, Arkansas is led by its rushing attack. They have three backs with over 200 yards on the year. The one most will focus on this weekend will be David Williams. Williams is a graduate transfer from, you guessed it, South Carolina. He was in the program for four years before deciding on the change of scenery for his senior campaign. His 203 yards are only 96 yards off his career best season with his upcoming opponent. Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden are the Razorbacks other two productive running backs.
Gamecocks at Crossroads
South Carolina desperately needs some good things to happen this weekend, preferably an early lead and some production on offense. With this team’s recent scoring struggles, getting points early and getting the crowd involved could be huge. A win this weekend would even the Gamecocks’ SEC record, and put them back on track to build on last year’s 6-7 finish. A loss on the season could go in the wrong direction quickly.
Quarterback Jake Bentley knows Austin Allen’s pain. The sophomore was sacked five times in nine plays at one point in the 4th quarter in their loss to Texas A&M. The Gamecocks’ offensive line has been decimated by injuries recently. The mish-mash of players filling in were overwhelmed late in the game last weekend. The run blocking wasn’t very stout when the starters were healthy, but the pass protection really fell apart as injuries mounted. South Carolina needs to help its patchwork line and bruised quarterback by mixing things up. Look for a few more screens and jet sweeps to counter an aggressive pass rush. The line could get a much needed boost as Zach Bailey may return from injury this weekend.
Defense Needs Help
Will Muschamp’s defensive unit has performed well overall this season. They have given up high yardage totals in some games, but have kept opponents from scoring. The issue in the Gamecocks’ two losses has been the wearing down late in games. The offense hasn’t helped much. Too often, consecutive three and outs on offense have led the South Carolina defense right back on to the field. For a team with depth issues on that side already, accumulating snaps because of an ineffective offense is a problem. They have held each opponent under their scoring average, and have played well enough to win every game. They need more help from their offense.
Win or Stay Home
With a game at Tennessee, and games at home against Georgia, Florida and Clemson remaining, this one looms large. If the Gamecocks want to become bowl eligible and get to a winning record, they need a win. This home game is against an evenly-matched team. If the offense can get some sort of identity and protect the quarterback, they have a chance to build momentum once again. With their season at a crossroads, South Carolina needs its team and crowd to be at their best this weekend. A loss would be devastating to any hopes of a winning record in 2017.