LITTLE ROCK — Unpleasant means, specifically stupidity and injury, have culminated in a much-anticipated end involving Arkansas linebacker Otha Peters.
Every February, there is a column questioning the unbridled enthusiasm for 18-year-olds who have signed on with one school or another and mocking coaches who always “fill their needs.” But, ever since Peters’ last-minute switch from Tennessee to Arkansas, I have wanted to see what the young man from Covington, La., can do at a position where the Razorbacks were so desperate that a good defensive end was converted and a fullback received a long look.
Because Terrell Williams was charged with driving while intoxicated and because Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright are hurt, Peters will get his chance today in Columbia, S.C.
Judging by the schools who offered him scholarships, Peters was one of the defensive gems of the class that signed in February. In addition to the Vols, Peters had offers from Nebraska, Texas A&M, TCU, Pittsburgh, Arizona and others.
When suitors of that ilk are left in the dust, I pay attention. It is that same train of thought that leads me to believe Mike Anderson has Razorback basketball on the right track.
Six-foot-ten Bobby Portis of Little Rock had offers from Florida, Memphis, Nebraska, and Baylor. Six-foot-nine Moses Kingsley, who played with Portis on the Arkansas Wings, had offers from Louisville, Florida, Tennessee, Memphis and others.
Both chose Arkansas. Those also-rans are big-time in basketball.
Peters was ranked as the No. 6 inside linebacker in the country by one recruiting service, the sort of high regard given players who dot the rosters of Alabama, LSU, and others with defenses that can carry the day in the Southeastern Conference.
Peters and fellow freshmen, linebacker A.J. Turner and cornerback Will Hines, will go against a South Carolina offense at less than its best because of a season-ending injury to Marcus Lattimore. Arguably the premier running back in the SEC, Lattimore will be replaced by senior Kenny Miles and freshman Mike Davis.
The silver lining for the Gamecocks is that they had an extra week to adjust to an offense without Lattimore. His absence puts an additional burden on quarterback Connor Shaw. For example, in victories over quality opponents Georgia and Vanderbilt, Lattimore carried 47 times and Shaw threw only 21. In losses to LSU and Florida, Lattimore carried 16 times and Shaw was 28-of-54.
As far as playmakers on offense, Arkansas is at least on par with the Gamecocks. It is on the other side of the ball that South Carolina has a decided edge.
Defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor may be as good as any pair in the country, said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. Clowney is supposed to be a can’t-miss NFL player and he’s not even eligible for the draft until the spring of 2014. Clowney and Taylor add up to a heap of trouble for Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson because his offensive tackles have been victimized on occasion.
Last week, Wilson was sacked once by Tulsa. The previous week, he was sacked once and flagged twice for intentional grounding against Ole Miss.
Part of the problem with Arkansas’ passing game is that Cobi Hamilton is Wilson’s only reliable target. In the last two games, Hamilton has caught 23 passes and his teammates have snagged 22.
After Williams’ arrest and suspension, Arkansas coach John L. Smith said Peters is “going to be a good player down the road,” and that to help him along, “We just have to make sure we keep things simple.”
Interpreting Smith, that means the Arkansas coaching staff will do all it can to help, but that Peters is not quite ready for SEC football. His apprenticeship is about to begin.
Clowney and Taylor are already certified experts.
SOUTH CAROLINA 27, ARKANSAS 17.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.