I got together with BVC at Arkansas Fight to chat about the final installment in the Arkansas-South Carolina intra-divisional rivalry. My answers to their questions are here. You’ll see what BVC had to say to me below.
1. What's the feeling among Arkansas fans about new coach Bret Bielema so far? Are you excited about the direction of the program under his leadership? Is his style of play popular among fans?
I think that Bret Bielema and Arkansas fans are still feeling each other out, but for the most part the relationship is a positive one. People DO seem to be more quick to complain about Bielema in his first season than they were to second-guess Bobby Petrino in his equally challenging initial year. This is probably due to a lot of different factors including Bielema's more methodical style of play and even some misplaced leftover grudge from the fact that Bielema is for all intents and purposes Petrino's true replacement.
Personally, I was unsure of the hire initially but have become more and more convinced that Bielema and Arkansas are a perfect fit. He's confident in his ability, and he seems to back up his bluster thus far. That's all I can ask for at this point.
2. The geographically oddball pairing of South Carolina and Arkansas as intra-divisional SEC rivals has produced some interesting games over the years. Will you be sorry to see this series go? Why or why not?
Not particularly. It has produced some terrific games for Razorback fans, but it always seems to be a penultimate game. At times it has been important, but only because it potentially setup an even more important game. Even in 2011 when both teams were ranked in the Top 10, it was overshadowed by the Alabama/LSU clash being played concurrently.
Geography also certainly has a lot to do with it. The Hogs pick up Missouri next year, and it already has much more of a rivalry sensation about it than the series with Carolina. I'm assuming Gamecock fans feel the same way.
3. Arkansas has some injuries on offense and defense coming into the game. Which are the most notable, and how do you see them affecting the game?
Of the players that were injured last week, Will Hines (broken arm) is the only one that it looks like the Hogs will be without this weekend. Brandon Allen and Travis Swanson both appear to be back to 100%, and while losing Hines is very bad, it's not as bad as being without the services of your starting quarterback or best offensive lineman.
Safety Rohan Gaines and receiver D'Arthur Cowan should see increased roles after being out for much of the season as well. All in all, things should be much better this week for the Hogs than they have for a few weeks, at least in terms of injuries.
4. Arkansas appeared to have a productive run game until last week against Florida's excellent defense. What did you learn about the Razorbacks' offense from that game? How do you expect it will fare against USC? What should USC fans expect from Brandon Allen?
Credit Florida's excellent defense for making the necessary adjustments to shut Arkansas down, but it should be noted that the Hogs rushed for more yards in the first quarter than Florida allows on average for the an entire game. Arkansas was able to push Florida around early, and despite scoring only the one touchdown, you won't find many Hog fans down on the running game.
Brandon Allen, on the other hand, has his share of detractors. He didn't play his best against Florida, to be sure, but much of what ails Allen seems to these eyes to stem from following four years of Tyler Wilson and Ryan Mallett more than anything else.
The key to success offensively for Arkansas is simple: balance. If Jim Chaney can get his offense in a good rhythm early with an effective run/pass mix, the Razorbacks can score more than enough points to win. Balance is the key, though.
5. South Carolina has the most productive, balanced offense I've seen in a very long time in Columbia. What does Arkansas do well defensively? What does it need to work on? How will it fare defensively against USC?
Arkansas has one of the best defensive lines in the SEC, and all success the defense has stems from this. The Hogs held Florida to less than three yards per carry, and I would not be surprised to see similar against the Gamecocks. That's where it gets interesting, though, because the last thing I want to see as a fan is for South Carolina to abandon the run and pass the ball exclusively. That's exactly what enabled Rutgers to come back and beat the Hogs earlier this season. The back level of defense is just that bad.
This is a very hard game to handicap. Just too many variables. Because I'm a homer, I'll say 34-31 Arkansas, but I wouldn't be surprised by anything, y'all.
Thanks for having me, and Woo Pig Sooie!