College Sports

Gamecocks focused on defense

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina got run over the past two years by the rushing Razorbacks. Arkansas hopes to use that same plan this week, too.

The Razorbacks (4-5, 1-4 SEC) ran for 809 yards their last two victories over the Gamecocks (6-3, 3-3), the bulk of it from two Arkansas stars now in the NFL in Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

But Arkansas, under first-year coach Bobby Petrino, has taken a much more wide-open approach to the game this season. A year ago, more than 64 percent of Arkansas' total yards came on the ground. That's flipped around this season, with more than two-thirds of the yards coming through the air.

Still, to succeed against South Carolina and its No. 2-in-the-country pass defense Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium, Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino says the Hawgs' had better run wild once more.

"This week, it's important that we are able to run the ball well," he said. "We will emphasize that all week."

So have Gamecock defenders, the replays of Jones and McFadden romping past them untouched for touchdowns filling their heads again and again and again.

McFadden had a particularly memorable day, rushing for 321 yards to tie an SEC record. His 80-yard touchdown in the final quarter iced Arkansas' 48-36 win.

"I felt real bad," South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood said. "That game, you can't really get it out of your head."

Gamecock defenders are different this time around, too. They're third in the country in defense -- tops in the SEC -- and give up ground yards grudgingly. A week ago, Tennessee managed only 34 yards on 28 attempts -- a paltry 1.2 yards a try.

That group's led by first-year coordinator Ellis Johnson, who Bobby Petrino hired last offseason to lead the Razorbacks before South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier took him away about a month later. For Johnson, the move to the Gamecocks was the chance to put down roots in his and his wife's home state.

Johnson said Petrino, who left the Atlanta Falcons before season's end last year to take over the Razorbacks, accepted his reasons to leave. The two parted on good terms.

"It's certainly something that I understood," Petrino said of the move. "A place where he feels he has an opportunity to retire. It's something that worked out good for him and his family."

If the Razorbacks try to get the ground game going, they have a good one to lead them in junior Michael Smith. He leads the SEC with better than 123 yards a game and brings the familiar burst that Arkansas fans got used to from McFadden and Jones.

Then again, it's hard to turn away from a pass game that clicking so well.

Quarterback Casey Dick threw for a career best 385 yards in Arkansas' 30-23 win over then-19th-ranked Tulsa. Dick's performance was his third this season of more than 300 yards, a Razorbacks' first, and a feat that got him honored as an SEC player of the week.

"Certainly, it was a lot of fun" last week, Dick said. "Threw the ball around, watched a lot of guys make great plays and great runs and do everything right."

The Tulsa win snapped an awful stretch for the Hogs, who's only victory in the previous six games came against then 20th-ranked Auburn.

Bobby Petrino knows to make it two in a row, his club will have to outthink South Carolina's smart, fast and talented defenders.

"They try to confuse you," he said. "Looks like at home they try to use the crowd to make you try and change protection or change plays when it's loud, so we are going to have to execute fast and sharp."

A game ago, Spurrier banked on his defense as his offense struggled to get things going despite the 27-6 final over Tennessee. Even though quarterback Stephen Garcia has looked strong in South Carolina's past three games, Spurrier says he'll wait until pregame warmups before deciding whether the freshman or backup Chris Smelley will start.

Sounds like Spurrier's taking nothing for granted. After all, the Gamecocks can lock up a postseason trip with victory and bring a load of momentum into The Swamp a week later when they face powerful Florida.

First, though, South Carolina has to make sure it's not chasing down Arkansas players on the way to the end zone like the last two years.

"We look forward to probably a close game to see if we can make a play or two in the fourth quarter or earlier to try to put these guys away," Spurrier said.