FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas jumped out to an early 7-0 lead against No. 14 South Carolina with a touchdown on the opening drive of the game.
Then it was the Gamecocks turn. And again. And again.
South Carolina’s offense did pretty much whatever coach Steve Spurrier wanted it to do against the Arkansas defense Saturday in a 52-7 win at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The Gamecocks rolled for 254 first-half yards as they scored 24 unanswered points that effectively ended the game by halftime.
“Today is a day you have to put in the memory bank and vow that you’ll never let it happen again as a head coach, as an assistant coach, as a coordinator, as a player, as second-string (or) third-string,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. “Just unacceptable.”
South Carolina ran 47 first-half plays to 24 for Arkansas. The Razorbacks had three possessions of less than four plays, including one that ended on a Brandon Allen interception that set up Mike Davis’ 6-yard TD run for a 10-7 South Carolina lead.
After that, the rout was on. Bielema said dealing with adversity is one of the Razorbacks’ weakest traits.
“It’s very hard to simulate adversity and that’s the one thing we can’t sustain,” Bielema said. “We have one negative play and it just cartwheels into everything. … It’s a very frustrating feeling.”
After the first of three consecutive three-and-outs by the Arkansas offense, South Carolina marched 71 yards in 11 plays for a 17-7 lead. Connor Shaw threw a 9-yard touchdown to Bruce Ellington early in the second quarter and then connected with him again for a 4-yard TD seconds before halftime for a 24-7 lead.
“Their second scoring drive … defensively we had, I believe, five different misalignments and execution on an 11-play drive,” Bielema said. “You can’t play winning football that way.”
Arkansas had chances to stop the South Carolina onslaught. On both of the Shaw-to-Ellington TD drives, the Razorbacks held the Gamecocks on third downs. Both times on fourth-and-1, Spurrier elected to go for it. Both times, he was rewarded with first downs and, eventually, touchdowns.
“It was very tough, especially when the offense just keeps going, keeps pounding. I feel like we got winded and got stung in the mouth. We didn’t execute, didn’t fill our gaps the right way,” Arkansas linebacker Jarrett Lake said. “It’s very frustrating.
“When you’re out on the field for so long, it feels like everybody stops worrying about where you’re supposed to head and everybody freestyles out there. Plus, your wind doesn’t catch back up to you and they have all the momentum going for them.”
Shaw completed 15-of-24 attempts for 149 yards for two touchdowns in the first half. He also ran nine times for 20 net yards. On those 33 plays, the senior gained an average of 5.12 yards. His quarterback rating for the half was 142.15. Brandon Allen, for contrast, posted a 37.2 QB rating with 3-of-9 passing for 28 yards and one interception in the opening two quarters.
If the passing game wasn’t enough to dishearten the Arkansas defense, they also had to deal with an effective running game. Davis gained 68 first-half yards on 10 carries with a touchdown as the Gamecocks ran for 105 yards in the opening two quarters.
“We’re not this good and they’re not that bad, but it really worked out for us today,” Spurrier said. “I do feel badly for Arkansas. That’s no fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all that.”
Chris Smith — who won the Crip Hall Award given to the most outstanding performance by a senior in the homecoming game by recording seven tackles — said Davis took advantage of mistakes by the Razorbacks.
“There was a lot of misalignments and that’s how they got some of those big plays, especially Davis,” Smith said. “If one person is out of alignment or out of their gap, he’s going to take it. He’s a great running back.”
The Gamecocks snuffed out any chance of a Razorback comeback by holding the ball for 11:52 in the third quarter and padding their lead to 38-7 as Shaw threw a 45-yard TD pass and ran for a 10-yarder.
As if giving up 52 points and 537 yards wasn’t bad enough, the already injury-plagued Arkansas defense lost defensive tackle Robert Thomas to a broke bone in his leg. They were already without cornerback Will Hines, who broke his arm against Florida, and linebacker Martrell Spaight missed Saturday’s game with a knee injury.
“Our numbers just got kind of thin,” Bielema said. “We just don’t have a lot of guys who can make plays in space. We lose a couple and it really takes a cumulative effect.”