Published November 5, 2010 - 6:00am
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It has never happened before, and who knows if it will ever happen again. The University of South Carolina is in sole possession of first place in the SEC east with two conference games remaining, and the next hurdle to making history arrives in the form of a razorback and an offensive mastermind. South Carolina and Arkansas will clash under the lights Saturday night, and for both teams, the season is on the line.
If you happen to watch college football, the matchup between these teams is rather obvious. Ryan Mallett is a rare quarterback talent, and possesses all the physical tools to excel at the position. He is torching the record books down in Fayetteville, and has been a major factor in their resurrection. His season has been impressive in all statistical categories except for interceptions, and big time wins. Mallett failed to deliver against Alabama by choking in the fourth quarter, and he was sidelined against Auburn due to a head injury. On the other side of the football is the very inconsistent and disappointing Gamecock secondary. Every opposing team has eaten South Carolina’s defensive backs alive, except for Alabama. Two of the worst teams in the SEC, Kentucky and Tennessee, passed for a combined 700 yards and 7 touchdowns against the Gamecocks. That is embarrassing. It is obvious that our boys are not very good in pass coverage, and it is also obvious that Ryan Mallett is not Michael Vick. The only way South Carolina will stop Mallett is by applying pressure. Ellis Johnson needs to call the New Orleans Saints, and inquire about the blitz packages they used against Brett Favre and the Vikings in last season’s playoff game. If Mallet is allowed to stand in the pocket Saturday night, then Williams-Brice will turn into target practice for Arkansas’ offense, and the Gamecocks will be run out of their own stadium with their feathers tucked between their legs.
This game also presents an interesting matchup between the changing of the guard. Through the 1990’s, Steve Spurrier was regarded as an unrivaled offensive mastermind. He then left Florida, failed in Washington, and is now back in college where he has, up until this season, failed to recapture the magic. Bobby Petrino took up the torch as an unrivaled offensive genius in Spurrier’s absence. In four years at Louisville he posted a record of 41-9 and his teams were always in the top five of major offensive statistical categories. He deserted Louisville, and fled to the NFL where he didn’t last a season. Since arriving in Fayetteville, the offensive numbers have returned, but the wins have been harder to come by. Both of these coaches will be motivated Saturday night by the opportunity to beat each other.
Spurrier knows Arkansas’ defense and his team’s defense are not comparable to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I expect Marcus Lattimore to carry the ball 30 plus times as Steve game plans to keep the ball away from Petrino and Mallett. There is no better preparer in football than Bobby Petrino. Scoring on the beginning possessions is almost automatic for his offenses, but as the game goes along, on occasion, his teams seem to slow down. Petrino will also be expecting a heavy pass rush, so do not be surprised if Arkansas establishes a solid running attack. The coaching matchup will be intriguing to say the least, and when the 4th quarter approaches, the decisions from the sideline will ultimately win the game.
These are the kind of football games South Carolina fans have been dreaming about since the Ol’ Ball Coach arrived six years ago, an inevitable shootout, with conference championship implications. It will be a heavyweight bout under the lights on Saturday, with NFL talent on display, and goals and aspirations for the season at stake. If the Gamecocks manage to be the last one standing this weekend, it will be time to start punching those tickets to Atlanta. Let’s make history South Carolina, 43-37 Gamecocks!