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Early Look: South Carolina and Arkansas meet again after three year hiatus

The once cross-division rivals have not met on the gridiron since 2013.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

After 23 years of meeting on the football field, the Arkansas-South Carolina cross-division series came to a close in 2013. For the first time since the series ended, the Razorbacks and Gamecocks get together on the gridiron in week six of the season at Williams-Brice stadium.

Arkansas had a rough end to the season last year. After starting out 3-0 the Hogs limped to a 7-6 season. During that 4-6 run, the defense gave up 45 to Texas A&M, 49 to Alabama, 56 to Auburn and blew a 24-0 halftime lead to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl. That prompted the Hogs to make a change at defensive coordinator with Robb Smith out and former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads in, promoting him from within. Rhoads has SEC experience as Auburn’s DC in 2008, taking Will Muschamp’s place after he left for Texas.

That was the major shake-up for Bret Bielema’s staff in the off-season. The shake-up in personal came when star tailback Rawleigh Williams retired from football after second neck injury. That leaves a huge void after Williams ran for 1,360 yards and 12 touchdowns during his break-out sophomore season. Former Gamecock David Williams will be a part of the group that looks to fill that void. He will likely split time with sophomore Devwah Whaley. Whaley impressed during his first season in Fayetteville, running for 602 yards and three scores.

The most important thing for Arkansas is the return of QB Austin Allen. The senior took over for his brother, Brandon Allen, last season and put up 3,430 yards and 23 touchdowns. Allen struggled to take care of the ball mid-way through the season. In the first five games, he threw 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions. In the final eight games, the threw 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He lost the bulk of his weapons from last year as well. With Keon Hatcher and Drew Morgan gone at receiver and Jeremy Sprinkle gone at TE, Jared Cornelius is the Hogs top returning pass-catcher. The senior caught 32 balls for 515 yards and 4 scores last season. Allen will have the bulk of his line returning though. The Hogs lost 6’10” All-American Dan Skipper but return four on the o-line.

Rhoads will have to work some magic with the defense. No school gave up more rushing touchdowns than Arkansas last year with opponents finding the Razorback end-zone 39 times. Rhoads is switching the defense to a 3-4, hoping to stop the run more effectively. He’ll have only two upperclassman on the defensive line to do it while Dre Greennlaw is the only returning starter at linebacker. The secondary should be improved. It was an average unit last season, finishing 8th in the SEC and 58th nationally, giving up 221 yards a game. The Hogs have solid depth, bring back six guys that have started at some point for them in the secondary.

The loss of Rawleigh Williams hurts for the Razorbacks but sophomore Devwah Whaley and Gamecock transfer David Williams should be able to soften the blow. Allen gives them experience under center and if he can limit the interceptions, he can be up there with the best in the SEC. With that being said, much of the 2017 Hog hopes rely on Paul Rhoads defense. If they can’t get the kinks out early, then they’ll have a tough time stopping the Carolina offense in Columbia.