South Carolina used to be a solid barometer of Arkansas’ season. Between 2001 and 2013 (the final year for the annual rivalry), Arkansas teams that went on to make a bowl game were 8-0 against the Gamecocks. Teams that missed a bowl were 0-5. In fact, the 2000 loss in Columbia was the only time in the rivalry’s history that Arkansas lost to the Gamecocks and still made a bowl game.
I don’t think Arkansas is going to a bowl game this year. As bad as Ole Miss, Mizzou, and Mississippi State have looked at times, Arkansas has to go 3-0 there and I don’t see it.
This game looked similar to so many others over the past five seasons. The Hogs come out of the gate sloppy, but keep it close. Then in the second half, it becomes apparent that Arkansas is just going to go on making mistakes and the opponent is going to get its issues fixed.
What didn’t look similar was the postgame press conference. Gone are the tearful “we’re so close” mantras and the promises to get the little things fixed. After the game, Bret Bielema was disappointed, confused, and even a little apologetic. What he was not, compared to previous losses, was optimistic. This job has finally sucked out the last of his enthusiasm, and I think he knows where this thing is headed.
Success rate numbers ended up similar only because of a frantic fourth-quarter outburst led by Cole Kelley after the game was out of reach. For the Gamecocks, total points (48) outpaced offensive production (decent efficiency, below-average explosiveness) due to three non-offensive touchdowns.
For the second straight game, the Hogs were decent on first down. The run game was atrocious, but we’ll get to that in a second. The pass game was also a nightmare. Kelley had almost twice as many passing yards as Austin Allen. Funny how each of the Allen brothers’ worst career starts have come against South Carolina.
The Gamecocks were unspectacular but good enough. Their rushing success rate was a little high, and as we’ve seen all year, the Hogs couldn’t get them off the field. They ran the same number of plays as Arkansas despite three fewer possessions due to non-offensive touchdowns.
Here was the basic game flow:
- The first quarter was evenly matched and featured bad offense. Or maybe good defense, if you’re an optimist. The teams were knotted 3-3 after one and things looked like they were even.
- Offenses opened up in the second quarter, but the Hogs came apart defensively. Arkansas posted a decent second quarter on offense (7 points, 53.3% success, 0.14 EV per play), but the Gamecocks erupted (14 points, 55.0% success, 0.32 EV per play) thanks to a couple of big plays. It wasn’t out of reach at halftime, but things didn’t look good.
- Arkansas’ offense fell apart in the third quarter. In a flashback to the Mizzou and Virginia Tech games last year, the Hog offense came undone out of the gates. Here’s the drive chart: three-and-out, pick-six, fumble-six, three-and-out. Just a 17.6% success rate and minus-0.55 EV per play. South Carolina wasn’t overly impressive but didn’t need to be. In their two possessions, they managed a field goal drive and the first part of a touchdown drive they completed in the fourth quarter.
- The Hogs padded stats with a strong fourth quarter. The obvious caveat is that South Carolina was hardly focused with a 41-10 lead early in the fourth when Cole Kelley entered the game, but the offense’s numbers here were the game’s lone bright spot, and the Gamecocks still had mostly starters on the field, at least for Kelley’s first drive. While I don’t like the idea of Kelley making his first career start against the defense of Alabama or Auburn, I’m more receptive to the idea of Kelley taking over as the starter at quarterback, at least when it becomes apparent the season is a lost cause (if it isn’t already). I hate it for Austin Allen, who is a solid SEC-caliber starting quarterback, but playing behind this line is a death wish, and Allen is at his best when he has a clean pocket.
Someone on Twitter suggested we start offensive line coach Kurt Anderson at quarterback for the Alabama game, just so he can try to play behind this line. I like it.
You won’t see 20.91 points worth of non-offensive scores very often. Even without those three scores, the Gamecocks were on pace to win something like 31-28. Those just sealed the deal.
Oh, Austin. Oh, Devwah. Disastrous performances from two guys expected to be two of the best on this team. I’m afraid Devwah Whaley is turning into the next Cole Hedlund: the guy that clearly isn’t the best option but Bielema keeps trotting him out there anyway. I’m not sure what happened to Whaley, but he looks much slower this year. Is it Arkansas’ strength and conditioning program? Ben Herbert keeps putting videos of guys hitting the squat rack, but it seems to me that fast players tend to vanish under Bielema. Dominique Reed is the best example. Non-factor in 2016 after a huge 2015. Remember Eric Hawkins? Never made an impact. Notice how all the fast guys on this current team (De’Vion Warren, Jonathan Nance, Jordan Jones) have spent fewer than two years in the system. Where are the fast guys that are juniors and seniors now?
Among non-linemen, Nance is the season’s Offensive MVP and it isn’t close. He’s finished top three in EV in every game against an FBS opponent.
Based on EV alone, David Williams should be the feature back in this offense, with Chase Hayden spelling him. Williams should average close to 20 carries per game, plus a couple of passing targets. Whaley should be reduced to clear third-string until he and the coaches can figure out what’s going on. In four games against FBS teams, he’s finished 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, and 3rd in EV among the three running backs.
While we’re here, I don’t think Arkansas is in for a total rebuild, regardless of who is the coach next year. Returning next season are the top 4 guys on that list, and potentially up to 12 out of 14. That’s in addition to nine defensive starters — not counting Ryan Pulley, who effectively makes 10. Next year’s team could be pretty solid, but should Bret Bielema coach that team? That’s a debate all Hog fans will have over the next few weeks and months.
Up next is Alabama. It’s going to be painful, so I’ll probably also check in on coach Mike Norvell as his Memphis Tigers take on Navy at 2:45 CT on ESPNU. Anyone else have a coach they’ll be watching this weekend? Just wondering...