FAYETTEVILLE--Razorback coaches on the defensive side of the ball had two main goals going into last Saturday's South Carolina game. Limit the Gamecocks on the ground and apply pressure to banged up quarterback Conner Shaw. A quick look at the stats from that game would seem to indicate that they succeeded.
Arkansas held running back Mike Davis to just 53 rushing yards. Shaw's numbers (14-22, 272 yds, 2 TDs, 1 Int.) were okay but not eye popping. He was also sacked three times for 17 yards in losses.
So how did the game end up a lopsided 38-20 on the scoreboard with the home team dominating the second half?
"We was stopping him at first," defensive end Trey Flowers told the Razorback Nation, "but good guys don't stay down. You knew he was going to bounce back. We made plays. We just didn't make enough."
One of those big plays was a 42 yard touchdown strike to Bruce Ellington as head coach Steve Spurrier gambled on a 4th and six with 1:30 to play in the half. South Carolina jumped its lead from 14-10 to 21-10 taking valuable momentum into the dressing room.
Hogs defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said he gambled himself on that play and lost. "We knew he (Shaw) was starting to look a little banged up," Haynes recalled. We thought we could shake him up a bit."
A safety blitz almost worked but Shaw skillfully moved forward and to his right just enough to avoid the sack and find Ellington for the score.
"Our safety has to get over the top and he read it the wrong way," Haynes explained. "Again, that's a young kid making a mistake."
At one time or another there were five freshmen on the field for Arkansas' defense. Two of them were starting at linebacker. With two weeks to prepare for the Hogs it was clear early on in the game that Spurrier was going to test the coverage skills of Otha Peters and A.J. Turner.
"You have young guys in there, yeah, they're gonna test those guys," head coach John. L. Smith said of Spurrier's strategy.
On South Carolina's opening drive of the game Shaw completed passes of 26, 16 and 29 yards to three different receivers, picking on Peters and Turner in the process, as the Gamecocks jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead.
Turner bounced back to sack Shaw stopping South Carolina's first drive of the second quarter. But the junior quarterback came back on the next possession to burn redshirt freshman cornerback Davyon McKinney with 36 yard toss to Ellington. An additional roughing the passer penalty moved the ball to the Arkansas 14 yard line with Shaw taking it across the goal line three plays later on 3rd and six from the Arkansas 10.
Haynes shook is head when asked if the defense had gone backwards after slow but steady improvment since the A&M game. "We got five freshman out there," he noted. "You're going to have freshmen mistakes. The good thing about it is they will learn from it. They'll continue to get better."
Junior defensive end Chris Smith was frustrated but unmoved by the loss to Hogs first top 10 opponent since the Alabama game.
"We're together when we win so we got to be together when we lose. We're just going to fight through it and move on."