Welcome to week two of South Carolina's three-week anxiety series: last week saw the Gamecocks lose a late lead to Texas A&M and today they'll face the Arkansas Razorbacks in a game with major postseason implications.
That sounds like a silly thing to say in week six, but not when you look down the road at the respective schedules of these two schools.
If you trust Bill Connelly's metrics, and I do, this game is pivotal in the march to six wins for both of these teams. Arkansas still has to play Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State — essentially the entire SEC West. South Carolina still has to face Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, and Clemson -- the latter three ranked in Bill's top 25 per S&P+.
Basically, the schedules dictate Arkansas and South Carolina have zero margin for error from here on out in the game they can win. I'm not totally discounting these teams out of the aforementioned games, but when bowl eligibility is what you seek then you need to focus on the realistic games like this one we have today.
That's not going to ease the anxieties of Gamecocks fans, but that's the situation they're faced with going forward. Today's game, Vanderbilt and Western Carolina are the three games left on the schedule where South Carolina has reasonable expectations to win -- Tennessee too if you believe that 41-0 drubbing from Georgia will collapse their season.
Either way, South Carolina is facing the toughest part of their schedule with the most amount of uncertainty around their team. On top of the new cries for OC Kurt Roper's head following three weeks of constipated offense, South Carolina has experienced horrific injury luck with a roster that wasn't deep to begin the season.
Zack Bailey, Cory Helms and Malik Young — three of your five starting offensive linemen -- will not play this week on top of the losses of OLB Bryson Allen-Williams and do-it-all WR Deebo Samuel. When you zoom in, it shouldn't be a surprise South Carolina's offense has looked like butt over the past three weeks.
That's not going to bode well for QB Jake Bentley, who looks increasingly desperate for help as the season grows older. He was sacked seven times last week and outside of one big run by Ty'son Williams couldn't get any sort of support on the ground. South Carolina' s offense has become one dimensional and that one dimension is average on its best day.
Sure, Bryan Edwards, Hayden Hurst, Shi Smith and OrTre Smith are a fine corps of receivers but without the dynamic of Deebo and an offensive line that can provide protection for more than three seconds -- the Gamecock offense is going to continue to look terrible no matter what kind of scheme Roper draws up.
Even while the defense has played at a top 40-to-50 level through five games, the Gamecocks' "bend-don't-break" style of defense is a bad matchup for what Arkansas likes to do on offense. The Razorback offense has played at a top-25 level without being able to generate explosive plays -- something South Carolina's defense is specifically designed to stop.
Since Arkansas' offense doesn't need to hit the 30-yard pass to score points, they'll be perfectly content to grind off four and five-yard plays at a time to bleed out South Carolina by a thousand paper cuts. The key will lie in whether or not South Carolina can stuff Arkansas on the ground on first and second down -- only then will the Gamecocks have a chance to try to create some havoc against QB Austin Allen.
There;s going to be a massive swing of hope and emotion after this afternoon's game -- one for the joy of being closer to bowl eligibility and the other the somber of facing a five-win season.
How to watch South Carolina vs. Texas A&M tonight
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
Place: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC
TV: SEC Network
Announcers: Dave Neal, Matt Stinchcomb
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