Our sixth game of the season takes us on the road to play the Arkansas Razorbacks. This game has been moved up from its traditional November placement as part of the SEC's temporary scheduling. With Arkansas struggling through life after Petrino, the Gamecocks broke a three-game losing streak to the Hogs last season with a 38-20 win in Columbia. The Hogs hired Bret Bielema to replace interim coach John L. Smith over the off-season. Bielema will look to bring Arkansas back to bowl eligibility in his first season in the Natural State.
Bielema was one of the splashier hires of the offseason. He won multiple Big Ten championships at Wisconsin and seemed enmeshed as one of the league's premier coaches. His departure to coach the Hogs was viewed as indicative of the draw of the SEC against other conferences. As SBN's Bill Connelly writes,
That Bret Bielema, who brought Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls from 2010-12, not only jumped ship for an SEC program, but one that has never actually won the SEC, was the biggest statement of all. Bielema was not only at the helm of a pretty consistently strong Wisconsin program, but he was one of the more pro-B1G coaches on the conference roster. A former Iowa nose tackle, under Hayden Fry, Bielema fired away at Urban Meyer's SEC-esque recruiting tendencies in 2012. And now he's SEC, too.
That said, Connelly points out that Arkansas may have regressed last year even with Petrino due to Petrino's lackluster defensive recruiting, and the Hogs are now also without several offensive stars from a year ago. Bielema has a tough task ahead. Tyler Wilson, Dennis Johnson, Knile Davis, and Cobi Hamilton are all gone. After Brandon Mitchell transferred to N.C. State, Brandon Allen was left as the only viable QB on the roster. Allen struggled last year while Wilson was injured, but he has some upside. The problem at QB for Arkansas is that the Hogs will be forced to play freshmen if Allen gets hurt. Jonathan Williams will likely start at RB and should be decent replacing Johnson and Davis. The good news for both Allen and Williams is that Arkansas returns a relatively talented, experienced offensive line that should give Bielema something of a start on recreating his punishing Wisconsin offenses in Fayetteville. Receiver is a question mark after the departure of Hamilton and others, but Petrino did recruit some good receivers during his tenure, so there's talent on the roster.
The defense is the real worry for Arkansas, at any rate. The pass defense struggled with a mediocre pass rush and absolutely terrible secondary play last year, both of which were on display at times in our own game against Arkansas. The Hogs have a lot of work to do in these regards. The good news there is that the secondary is more experienced, but the bad news is that the players returning were the same ones who stunk last year. We'll see what happens. Run defense was better, but most teams weren't running too often against such an awful pass defense, and run defense will regress due to the graduation of multiple important linebackers. The defensive line should be the defense's strength, but depth is a question mark if any of the starters go down.
This road game may present some challenges for South Carolina if Bielema gets the Wisconsin magic working on offense and gets at least moderate improvement from the defense. Carolina hasn't won at Arkansas since 2005, so there's that. We should have the advantage this year, though. One additional thing to note is that this game comes in the middle of a brutal stretch for Arkansas. In the two weeks prior to hosting Carolina, Arkansas hosts Texas A&M and travels to Florida. After Carolina, it heads to Tuscaloosa. Arkansas's health and mental balance may loom large at this point in the season. Carolina, on the other hand, will be coming off a relatively benign stretch against UCF and Kentucky. The Arkansas game does begin a tough three-game road trip for Carolina, though.