“Right now, we’re in good shape,” the Gamecocks coach said following Saturday’s win. “The thing is, can we continue?
“... We’re back with a chance.”
Perceptions have certainly changed about the No. 11 Gamecocks (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference), who had spent much of the week leading into the game answering questions about the health and commitment of All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney returned after missing a win over Kentucky with a muscle strain near his ribcage, finishing with one tackle. While his statistics were hardly what many have come to expect of the junior, it wasn’t exactly like he had that many chances – Arkansas (3-4, 0-3) ran 37 offensive plays.
The Gamecocks ran 89 plays of their own – holding a 43:25-16:35 edge in time of possession – in an effort that was by far their most dominant of the season.
The performance produced South Carolina’s largest margin of victory on the road in the Spurrier era. It also led to a bit of second-half relaxation for a team that had let large leads slip away in each of the three wins since the loss to Georgia in Week 2.
Oh, and despite the one tackle, Clowney was every bit as dominating as his usual self – wreaking havoc in the Razorbacks’ backfield on the game’s opening play and forcing Arkansas to double-team him for much of the game.
“When I got back this week, I told the guys that we weren’t letting up,” Clowney said. “Everybody is talking about us right now but we’re going to tune it out, man, and just have fun.”
As good as South Carolina felt about itself after the win, it also received help elsewhere across the SEC. Both Georgia and Florida suffered their first conference losses of the season on Saturday, leaving Missouri as the lone remaining undefeated team atop the East standings.
The Gamecocks, who travel to Tennessee this week, finish a three-game road trip in two weeks when they travel to face the Tigers – with a spot atop the East standings possibly on the line.
“This puts us back in it (in SEC East) is about all I can say about that,” South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw said. “We’ll just keep continue playing and do what we have to do.”
While Shaw put together one of his most complete games of the season, accounting for 256 yards of total offense and four touchdowns before exiting early with the big lead, Arkansas’ once-promising season under first-year coach Bret Bielema was left in shambles.
After opening the season with three straight wins, the Razorbacks have now lost four in a row — equaling the longest losing streak of Bielema’s career.
Even more disheartening than Saturday’s loss was just how badly Arkansas struggled on both sides of the ball. The Razorbacks were outgained 537-248 in total yardage by the Gamecocks, and quarterback Brandon Allen was 4-of-12 passing for 30 yards.
Arkansas opened the game with a 7-play, 64-yard touchdown drive, but it allowed the game’s final 52 points after that. Allen threw his fifth interception of the season in the first quarter, and he’s now completed just 48.1 percent (64 of 133) of his passes this year.
The Razorbacks also had two big runs, by Keon Hatcher and Alex Collins, that ended in fumbles — leaving Bielema looking for ways to teach Arkansas how to overcome difficult moments before games like Saturday quickly spiral are out of reach.
“We have a negative play, and then it just cartwheels into everything and is around us in every way,” Bielema said. “It’s a very difficult thing.”
Even Spurrier chimed in on Arkansas’ woes after Saturday’s game, saying he did “feel badly” for the Razorbacks.
The season doesn’t get any easier this week for Arkansas, which will play for the eighth straight week when it travels to No. 1 Alabama.
“I just hope the team can come together and get ready for the No. 1 team in the country,” Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith said. “We still have five games left in the season to bounce back.”
“... We can’t have nobody feeling sorry for us at all.”