South Carolina hits the road this weekend for the first of three straight road games in SEC play. It's a tough task for any team to hit the road this many times in a row, but it's especially tougher in the SEC.
Arkansas brings a new approach to the series under new coach Bret Bielema. In recent years, it's been the air attack of Bobby Petrino that has dominated the Gamecocks, especially in the state of Arkansas. South Carolina hasn't won in the state of Arkansas since 2005. Since then, it's been a high-scoring attack from Arkansas that has put up some big numbers on the Gamecock defense.
Now, with Bielema at the helm, the offense has switched to a more run-based approach. The Razorbacks have two dominant running backs in true freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams. Both players have helped make Arkansas's rushing attack one of the best in the conference. Collins leads the league in rushing yards as a freshman, which is impressive considering the talented defenses that play in this league.
South Carolina is hoping that the return of Jadeveon Clowney will be a boost for this defense on Saturday. Clowney returned to practice on Thursday and will do his part this weekend to make an impact for the Gamecocks. It's not known where Clowney will start or not but he should be able to play. His strength, power and speed could be crucial to slow down Collins and Williams this weekend.
It's a tough task at hand for the Gamecocks, especially given the defensive play and mental breakdowns in recent weeks, but the hope is that will have been erased this past week and South Carolina can play a complete game against the Razorbacks.
With that said, let's take a look at this week's This, That and The Other.
This game features two of the best running backs in the conference, if not the country, in Mike Davis and Alex Collins. Davis has been impressive for the Gamecocks this season in his quest to replace fan-favorite Marcus Lattimore. I think his performance so far this season has shown that he's up to the task and then some. Davis averages 122.8 yards per game rushing and has scored eight touchdowns on the ground. He already has 614 yards rushing and is averaging 6.7 yards per rush this season. He's got several carries of 50+ yards this season which has shown a burst of speed that many people didn't expect he had when he came to Columbia. Davis is a big reason South Carolina is where they are right now at this point in the season.
Collins has lived up to his lofty recruiting rankings out of high school to lead the SEC in rushing yards this far into the season. 651 yards rushing with three rushing touchdowns is pretty impressive for anyone through six games, let alone a freshman in the SEC. Collins has been an integral part of Arkansas's ground game this year leading the team in rushing four times this season and started off the season with three straight 100-yard rushing games. This was the first time that has ever happened in the SEC. You know the strong running backs in the history of the SEC? Yeah. None of them have done what Collins has done.
Both running backs will be on display and you can imagine that they'll be the focal point of their team's offenses on Saturday. Which player shows up and performs could be a huge determination in the outcome of this weekend's game.
That Jadeveon Clowney is planning to play is another reason why people shouldn't over-blow a situation before they know exactly what is going on first. We all know the media circus that occurred this past week with Clowney's injury situation. Folks took that as Clowney quit the team, was a joke, and so on and so forth. Clearly, they were all wrong. If Clowney wanted to sit out, he would have done it before the season started.
People don't seem to realize that Clowney is a fun, loving college student who just seems to have a relaxed attitude to himself. He doesn't let the attention and hype go to his head. The outside world seems to think differently but those who have been around him know just what kind of person he is.
We aren't sure how effective Clowney will be this weekend. He may not start and may only go limited reps but his presence alone will be good for this defense. Knowing their superstar is right there beside them with the opportunity to play should give them a boost and hopefully elevate their play this weekend.
The other thing to look out for this weekend will be the potential new starters on defense. It's been alluded to by Coach Spurrier and Coach Ward all week but we don't know yet who will replace who this weekend. One player that could likely see the bench to start the game is cornerback Victor Hampton. He's really taken to playing out of position the last few weeks and its shown on some touchdowns he's allowed by trying for the interception only to be faked out for an easy, wide open touchdown for the opposing team. In his spot could be backup Ahmad Christian but watch out for freshman Jamarri Smith. He could see his role increased this weekend.
Another name that seemingly has seen his stock increase is safety Chaz Elder. This young redshirt freshman received a good bit of playing time last week against Vanderbilt and finished with four tackles, a career-high. He could move into a starting role over someone like Kadetrix Marcus to allow Brison Williams to shift over to the other safety spot. This may be needed to get more physical bodies on the field to help slow down the rushing attack of the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Changes can be a good thing. Or they can be a bad thing. South Carolina may need to install some new blood to get this defense back to a quality level we've seen in recent years. Whether these changes happen or not, look for some fresh faces in new places on Saturday.
This game will be one that could determine what happens over the next few weeks. Arkansas is a quality team that will have the home environment behind them. South Carolina has had its struggles in recent weeks so the Razorbacks likely feel this is a winnable game and they should. There are deficiencies on this Gamecock team, mainly defense and some areas of special teams, that could show up again this Saturday.
If the struggles continue on Saturday, this road trip could spell doom for the Gamecocks. Tennessee is always a tough place to play and then following up with a better-than-expected Missouri team will be a tough task. South Carolina could drop all three of these games and see their season go down the drain.
Or, they could show up this Saturday with a renewed sense of urgency and become the top notch football team we expected to see with a dominating performance in all aspects and take that good momentum on the road with them the next two weeks.
This will be an interesting game to watch and will be fun to see both teams use their talented running backs to try and control the game. Whoever comes out on top will have likely rode their star running back to victory.
Let's hope it's Mike Davis that carries the Gamecocks to a win this weekend.