In what turned out to be an out-STAND-ing opening weekend for the SEC, the Razorbacks and the Gamecocks had to be somewhat satisfied with what each of them accomplished in Game 1. The Hogs earned a Top 25 showdown win over Cincinnati, 31-24, and the Gamecocks started out with a 35-14 win over Georgia State.
But the Razorbacks have to be the team brimming with more confidence this week as their win came against a Bearcat program that was ranked at No. 23 coming into the game following last season's College Football Playoff appearance. The victory also moved Arkansas up to No. 16 in the latest AP poll.
Meanwhile nine plays into the second half in their game against the Panthers, the Gamecocks found themselves trailing the Sun Belters 14-12. The Gamecocks had to rally by utilizing a pair of touchdowns from blocked punts. So this was much more of a toe-to-toe game than the score indicated.
South Carolina at No. 16 Arkansas
When South Carolina Has the Ball
Well first off, there is a reason Caleb Williams replaced Spencer Rattler as Oklahoma's quarterback last season. After starting off the 2021 season as one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy, Rattler immediately began to underwhelm people in SoonerLand. Against Georgia State last weekend, Rattler was once again just sorta "meh." He threw two interceptions and only went 23-for-37 for 227 yards. But as you know, you don't want to get too high or too low on a player's performance in Week 1. So let's wait and see what Rattler has in mind for his SEC debut.
Rattler will certainly need to be on his game this week because Cincinnati's Ben Bryant really peppered that Arkansas secondary, throwing for 325 yards. On top of that, Bryant overthrew a handful of deep passes where his receivers got behind the DBs. To compound the Razorbacks' problems, safety Jalen Catalon and nickelback Myles Slusher both exited that first game with injuries, and head coach Sam Pittman is still not sure of their availability for Saturday. If one or both don't play, Rattler should be able to take advantage of a depleted Hog secondary.
Keep an eye on the third down too. South Carolina went a putrid 3-for-14 on third down vs. Georgia State. That is a really bad ratio against a suspect defense. To challenge the Hogs, Rattler and Co. will desperately need to sustain drives to try and wear down the Arkansas D. More than anything, the Gamecocks will need to stay in front of the sticks because there is no way they can win on the road if they are consistently facing third-and-long situations.
When Arkansas Has the Ball
Let me say it this way… Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson is a man among boys. No other way to put it. That's it. He can run over you. He can juke you. He can outrun you. Oh, and he showed a lot of nice touch passes in the pocket as well last Saturday, throwing just eight incompletions against Cincinnati. But for most of the first half, he was THE offense for the Hogs, going 9-for-15 for 78 yards through the air with 53 rushing yards. He also did a pretty good Tim Tebow impersonation with the jump-pass TD to tight end Trey Knox. This offense will need to show more diversity, as it did in the second half vs. the Bearcats.
Keep in mind that Georgia State out-gained South Carolina 311 to 306, including 200 vs. 79 in the running game. And again, that's Georgia State out of the Sun Belt, not the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs. So look for the Razorbacks to get very comfortable in their running game, setting a tone from the first few snaps of the game and onward. Raheim Sanders really started to heat up as last week's game went on, finishing with 117 yards on the ground. He'll get even more this week.
Obviously, special teams — aka, Beamer Ball 2.0 — played a huge part in the Gamecocks escaping from the upset bug against the Panthers. There were a pair of blocked punts returned for touchdowns, a fake field goal resulting in a first down, a pair of successful 50-yard Mitch Jeter field goals, and four punts pinned inside the 20 by Kai Kroeger. So if Arkansas isn't razor sharp in the third phase of the game, this one could become a neck-and-neck affair.
Let's be honest here, one team beat a ranked opponent that played in the CFP last year, the other beat a team called Georgia State. 'Nuff said, really. Also keep in mind the Gamecocks are 2-11 in SEC road games over the last three years (One came at Vanderbilt, so that almost doesn't count), and with the Razorbacks playing at home in front of 75,00-plus rabid Hog fans, you have to figure that's going to be enough to end their current three-game losing streak to the Gamecocks. But I think that Arkansas secondary possibly missing two starters will be a big factor, so I can see this being a four-quarter game.
As head coach Sam Pittman said after the win over the Bearcats, he's not promoting it but it's "time for an old cold beer" after this win. We tip our bottles and agree my man.
Prediction: Arkansas 34, South Carolina 24
Podcast: Complete Week 2 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
*Price as of publication.