Connor Shaw, Defense, favor Gamecocks


LITTLE ROCK — Interpreting a Bret Bielema post-game quote from Gainesville, the jury was split on whether the indictment fell on the previous coaching staff or the current receivers or both.

On second thought, it doesn’t matter. The point is Javontee Herndon, Julian Horton, Keon Hatcher and the others must catch the footballs they touch. Far from perfect, Brandon Allen’s throws against Florida were close enough on many occasions, a point that Bielema addressed after the 30-10 loss.

“… before we got here, they supposedly recruited a lot of receivers that could catch the ball and we’ve got to execute it,” he said. “We’ve got to catch the ball and finish the routes and execute the throws.”

Later, protect Allen was added to the explanation of his 17-of-41 performance vs. Florida. The sophomore would be the first to admit he didn’t deliver, but a couple of blind-side whacks in the back will make one skittish. As expected, Florida went after Allen much more aggressively than Texas A&M the previous week. South Carolina’s approach today will be closer to the Gators’ than the Aggies.

Although only sacked a couple of times, Allen was hit on eight plays. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman said half the hits occurred because linemen missed assignments and the other half because linemen were whipped by the players they were supposed to block. Whatever the reason, Allen took a pounding.

Florida’s defensive front might be the best in the SEC, but Arkansas’ offensive line will be under the gun again this week, particularly if Jadeveon Clowney plays at his best.

As for Herndon, Horton, and the rest, Arkansas fans were spoiled by their recent predecessors — guys like Cobi Hamilton, Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams, who pretty much caught everything. I suppose the current crop performs well in practice and the only personal analogy is that the putting stroke is better on the practice green when no one is around than it is on the course when a putt means something and an opponent is lurking.

D’Arthur Cowan, who suffered a broken bone in his foot in August, caught his first pass of the season at Florida and could be more of a factor this week.

Rehashing Florida, there is a tendency to focus on the offense — including 30 yards rushing in the final three quarters — but the defense will face a more complete offense than it did in Gainesville. In a league with the Heisman Trophy winner, a two-time national champion, the SEC’s all-time passing leader and a quarterback whose NFL draft stock is on the rise, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw gets short shrift.

He is a very competent college quarterback and tough as nails. A week after leaving the game with a shoulder injury, Shaw was 17-of-20 for 262 yards and nine carries for another 50. He’s hitting more than 68 percent of his passes with no interceptions in 96 attempts and has rushed for almost 1,400 yards in his career.

When Shaw was injured, South Carolina put the UCF game in the hands of running back Mike Davis, who responded with 26 carries for 167 yards. He topped 100 again last week and, as a result, has been added to the Maxwell Award watch list.

Both Shaw and Davis will benefit from the absence of Arkansas’ best cornerback, Will Hines, and the fact that the Razorbacks were still shuffling the starting linebackers a week ago.

Some believers in Arkansas have cited South Carolina’s so-called road woes, winning at Central Florida by three and losing at Georgia. Shaw only threw two passes before he was injured at UCF and Georgia running back Todd Gurley was carrying 30 times a game when South Carolina played in Athens.

The winner might not score 30 today, but Shaw and defense are on the side of South Carolina.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is hking@arkansasnews.com.