It's time to take on the Hogs in Fayetteville. Can be bounce back and stop the bleeding after what happened in Knoxville last week? We'll see. Here are my thoughts on the game.
As always, turnovers will be key in this game. Some things to think about: First of all, Arkansas has a porous defense, but they've been able to produce turnovers pretty well, thus keeping some games close that probably shouldn't have been. (For example, the Gators burned a few scoring opportunities with fumbles when playing the Hogs.) We can't give up scoring opportunities with turnovers, and we certainly can't give Arkansas's high-powered offense any easy scores like we did against Tennessee last week. On the flip side, I expect Arkansas will find ways to move the ball against our depleted defense. However, if we can stifle some drives with an opportune turnover or two or, even better, score some easy points off turnovers, we'll put ourselves in a good position.
2. Convert Yards into Touchdowns
Arkansas comes into this game with one of the SEC's worst defenses. There's been a lot of noise coming out of Fayetteville this week about lineup changes and improved play, but all the talk only goes so far. The fact of the matter is that this is a relatively untalented defense that is banged up to boot. The Hogs' defense is hardly what we've faced the past few weeks against 'Bama, Tennessee, and even Vandy. That being the case, we should expect to see our guys move the ball well, especially if Stephen Garcia comes ready to play. However, moving the ball has never been the problem for this team. We've moved the ball efficiently on just about everyone we've played, but the yardage hasn't always equalled points. That has to stop this week, as this will likely be a relatively high-scoring game in which we'll need every point we can get. It's touchdowns or bust this week.
3. Special Teams, or, More Precisely, Kickoff Teams Play
Our kickoff coverage unit has been abysmal all year, and our return team, after playing well for the greater part of the past two years, has played poorly the last couple of weeks, as well. The coverage issue seems to mostly be lack of hangtime on kicks and problems with pursuit and tackling, while the problem with returns has been Chris Culliver's new-found timidity. We'll have to do better this week. Most important will be coverage. Arkansas has one of the best return men in the country in Dennis Johnson. We can't afford to give Arkansas any easy points, considering that their offense is perfectly capable of scoring in bunches without help from big returns, so we've gotta find a way to keep Johnson from getting lots of yards. Hopefully Shane Beamer has a plan. As far as returns go, let's just hope we don't see anyone run backwards.
By the way, does anyone know who will be lining up alongside Bryce Sherman to return kicks? I can't seem to figure this out for the life of me. I hope it's Stephon Gilmore, who has shown some nice moves on punt returns.
What This Game Means
Feathered Warrior's column testifies to the gravity of this game. It would really be difficult to overestimate its importance. A win will get us that seventh win, which I think should be enough to consider this season successful, considering this team's youth and the injuries it has endured. It also put us in position for a truly breakthrough season if we can pull out a win against Florida or Clemson. And perhaps most importantly, it'll prove that this team is capable of transcending its tendency to fade late in the season. That would be huge for team and fanbase confidence. A loss would lead to the opposite effects. We would be starting down a failure of a season, confidence would be eroded, etc. This is really a huge, huge game.
As the above comments indicate, I think this will probably be a relatively high-scoring game, with both teams scoring in the mid- to high-twenties at the very least. As long as we don't turn it over, I like our chances of scoring points against Arkansas, and although I think our defense has the personnell and favorable matchups to slow Arkansas down to some degree, it's just hard for me to see us totally shutting them down with their return and passing games as they are. With the game likely being a close, high-scoring affair, I think the difference will likely be a fatal turnover by one of the two teams. Considering that we have the stronger defense of the two, I'm going to say that we're the team that forces that big play. I'm picking the Gamecocks 34-28.