GAME NOTES: The 18th-ranked Florida Gators will attempt to win their third straight conference game on Saturday night when they play host to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The Brett Bielema era of Arkansas football got off to a fast start, as the team won each of its first three games, but things have not gone so smoothly in recent weeks. The Razorbacks have slipped to 3-2 after suffering a road loss to Rutgers on Sept. 21 (28-24), and a home defeat to Texas A&M in their SEC opener last Saturday (45-33).
"I'm excited about this group," Bielema said. "If they continue to give me the effort they gave me (versus Texas A&M) we'll be able to win some games. Obviously the schedule doesn't get any easier with Florida coming up but I think they understand how much they have to give."
Since losing at Miami-Florida on Sept. 7 (21-16), Florida has bounced back with victories in each of its first two SEC tilts, winning at home versus Tennessee (31-17), and at Kentucky (24-7), and while it faces three ranked foes over the next six weeks, Will Muschamp's club still controls its own destiny in the SEC East.
"It's been a long week for us psychologically and mentally as much as anything," said Muschamp, whose team has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks. "I'm very pleased with how our guys pulled together and came up (to Kentucky) and did what we did."
The Gators have dominated the all-time series with Arkansas, winning eight of the nine previous matchups, including all three bouts in Gainesville.
Despite experiencing almost a complete overhaul of starters from last season, the Arkansas offense is performing well in putting up averages of 29.2 ppg and 414.6 ypg.
Brandon Allen missed the Rutgers game with a shoulder injury but returned against Texas A&M to throw for a career-high 282 yards. Despite tossing eight touchdowns paired with just three interceptions, the signal caller is completing just 53.8 percent of his pass attempts.
The Razorbacks are at their best when they are committed to the ground game. Alex Collins is the workhorse, leading the SEC in carries (100) and yards (597), while scoring three times. Jonathan Williams has also been heavily involved with 471 yards and three scores.
Javontee Herndon (14 receptions, 236 yards, four TDs) and Hunter Henry (12 receptions, 234 yards, TD) are Allen's two most trusted targets at receiver. Williams is sure-handed out of the backfield with six catches and a pair of scores.
hought our players played extremely hard on both sides of the ball. Looking forward to South Carolina, it's going to be another great challenge."
South Carolina lost the opportunity to control its own destiny in the SEC East when it was beaten by Georgia on Sept. 7, 41-30. Since then, however, the Gamecocks have responded with back-to-back wins over Vanderbilt (35-25) and at UCF (28-25). The triumph over the Knights last week came after a sluggish start saw them get shut out in the first half, which is certainly something head coach Steven Spurrier wasn't happy about.
"Somebody on top is looking out for our team right now because our mental decisions that we were making, we easily could have lost," said Spurrier, who was disappointed in his team allowing UCF to climb back in the game with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
South Carolina has a firm handle on the all-time series with Kentucky, 16-7-1, while includes a 38-17 win in Lexington last season.
Kentucky's offense has been the SEC's worst in terms of scoring (21.8 ppg), due mostly to some lackluster play under center.
Maxwell Smith has earned the majority of the snaps, but despite throwing four touchdown passes against only one interception, he has thrown for less than 160 yards per game and has completed fewer than 58 percent of his attempts. Jalen Whitlow (321 yards, TD, INT) has been more effective as a passer (.660 completion percentage) and is a strong runner as well (169 yards, two TDs).
"I think we're going to try to give it to one person, give him the reps and see what he can do," said Stoops, admitting that the two-quarterback system has not worked out the way he had hoped. "I think we need to do that."
Jojo Kemp (186 yards) is the team's leading rusher despite carrying the ball just 21 times. Raymond Sanders is also involved with 169 yards and a touchdown, although the running game as a whole has suffered from falling behind early in games.
Javess Blue has racked up 213 receiving yards and a touchdown on 18 catches, while Jeff Badet (124 yards) and Anthony Kendrick (102 yards) both average at least 20 yards per reception.
Luckily for the Wildcats, a solid defensive effort has kept them competitive in each contest. The unit surrenders just 23.2 ppg and 375.8 ypg, while holding teams to a 33 percent conversion rate on third down.
Avery Williamson has racked up 42 tackles in the early going while also recovering a fumble. Alvin Dupree (3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, FF) and Za'Darius Smith (4.5 sacks) have created a strong pass rush.
South Carolina has been one of the most efficient offenses in the SEC this season, scoring 30.0 ppg on 482.2 ypg while converting more than 50 percent of its third-down attempts, but it will be without its starting quarterback for the next few weeks.
Connor Shaw (.645, 665 passing yards, 232 rushing yards, six TDs, zero INTs) will miss a 2-3 weeks after suffering a shoulder injury against UCF. Fortunately, Dylan Thompson has seen plenty of action this year even with a healthy Shaw, throwing for 365 yards while accounting for three total touchdowns, although his efficiency (.548, two INTs) will need to improve as the full-time starter.
Mike Davis will be leaned on even more heavily in the absence of Shaw. The tailback is second in the SEC in rushing (508) and third in touchdowns (six).
Bruce Ellington (229 yards, TD) and Nick Jones (136 yards, three TDs) will act as Thompson's safety valves in the passing game, as they are the only two Gamecocks with double-digit receptions.
Defensively, South Carolina has not lived up to its high standards, as it ranks in the bottom half of the conference in allowing 25.3 ppg and 381.0 ppg. Spurrier is especially concerned with the unit's play in the secondary, where it has allowed more than 250 passing yards per game.
"We can't catch anybody that's out in the open right now," Spurrier said.
Preseason Heisman hopeful Jadeveon Clowney is off to a sluggish start with just two sacks, as fellow defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles (3.0 sacks, fumble recovery) has outproduced him. Kaiwan Lewis has a team-high 22 tackles, and Jimmy Legree has picked off a pair of passes.
South Carolina seems far removed from the national championship hopeful it was at the beginning of the season, especially now that Shaw is out of commission for the forseeable future. Fortunately, Kentucky doesn't present much of a threat, especially playing in Columbia. The Wildcats defense will keep things interesting, but expect the South Carolina defense to get healthy as well.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Carolina 27, Kentucky 17
Gainesville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Tyler Murphy threw three touchdown passes, two of them going to Solomon Patton, as 18th-ranked Florida topped Arkansas, 30-10, Saturday night.
Murphy, pressed into action after Jeff Driskel broke his leg in a Sept. 21 win over Tennessee, completed 16-of-22 passes for 240 yards. Patton had a career- high 124 yards on six receptions.
Loucheiz Purifoy returned an interception 42 yards for a score for the Gators (4-1, 3-0 SEC), who took control with a dominating second quarter to win for the third straight time since a loss to in-state rival Miami on Sept. 7.
The Gators have a rough schedule ahead of them over the next month with road contests against current No. 10 LSU, undefeated Missouri, and a game versus No. 6 Georgia in Jacksonville. Florida won't play at home again until Nov. 9 versus Vanderbilt.
Brandon Allen finished 17-of-41 for 164 yards through the air for the Razorbacks (3-3,0-2), who lost their third straight contest. Jonathan Williams scored the lone touchdown, on a 4-yard run in the opening quarter.