South Carolina-Arkansas Preview
By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
(AP) -- After having very little success slowing down Ryan Mallett the last two seasons, South Carolina isn't exactly sure things will be easier now that Tyler Wilson is under center for Arkansas.
Wilson is the SEC's leader in passing yards and will lead the eighth-ranked Razorbacks into Saturday night's home matchup with the No. 10 Gamecocks.
South Carolina (7-1, 5-1) has lost four of the last five meetings with Arkansas (7-1, 3-1), with Mallett completing 77.2 percent (44 of 57) of his passes for 632 yards in Razorbacks wins the last two seasons.
That kind of aerial prowess has not changed despite Mallett's departure. Wilson has thrown for 2,327 yards, 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions for the Razorbacks, who have won four straight overall and seven in a row at home.
"You have to admire the way they play," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "It'll be a big challenge for us."
Mallett threw 12 interceptions last season, but Wilson is taking better care of the ball. Wilson has gone a school-record 176 passes without being picked off, matching the sixth-longest such streak in SEC history.
"There are some throws that Ryan Mallett made that Tyler might not make, but they're still the same offense," Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
Arkansas, though, looks vulnerable after winning 31-28 at Vanderbilt last Saturday. Wilson threw for 316 yards and one score as the Razorbacks rallied by outscoring the Commodores 11-0 in the fourth quarter - including a 94-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
"We're definitely not satisfied with where we are right now. We're not happy at all," defensive end Jake Bequette said. "We're happy to be 7-1. It's a great position. It looks good on paper, but we know we're capable of much better on defense and offense. When we put a complete game together, it's going to be something sweet."
Arkansas is off to its best start under fourth-year coach Bobby Petrino. The Razorbacks will be hosting a matchup of top-10 teams for the second time since 1979 after they were ranked 10th when they fell to top-ranked Alabama a year ago.
"I'm really excited about it and happy about it," Petrino said. "We look forward to this game this weekend. A top-10 matchup, that's one of the things as a coach, as a player, that you want to be in games like this."
It appears unlikely that Arkansas will catch No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama in the SEC West for a chance to play in the conference championship game.
South Carolina, meanwhile, is tied with No. 18 Georgia atop the East and owns the tiebreaker over the Bulldogs.
For now, however, the Gamecocks must focus on trying to prove they can compete with the Razorbacks. Several players and Spurrier referenced last season's 41-20 loss in Columbia.
"It's going to be a real big test," linebacker Antonio Allen said. "They just came in here and beat the crap out of us. We want to get that taste out of our mouths."
South Carolina owns the third-ranked defense in the SEC behind Alabama and LSU, allowing 266.1 yards per game. The Gamecocks have yielded three touchdowns over their last five conference games, grabbing an SEC-high 16 interceptions for the year - two in last weekend's 14-3 win at Tennessee.
"I think we've simplified a lot of our coverages to where we don't have all that many and there are fewer mistakes," Spurrier said. "I think that's a big part of it, and just the guys playing hard, playing their assignments, playing with effort."
South Carolina will be looking to exploit an Arkansas defense that is yielding 396.1 yards per game for the SEC's third-worst mark. The Gamecocks' passing game, however, isn't where Spurrier wants it with Connor Shaw - who replaced Stephen Garcia as starter on Oct. 8 - totaling 242 passing yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions over the last two games since Garcia was dismissed from the squad.
Each team has shown a knack for winning close games, with the Gamecocks often winning low-scoring contests and the Razorbacks high-scoring ones.
"They're kind of like us, just battling and staying in there," Petrino said. "Both teams have had real close games, real hard-fought games and found ways to win games. It's been very similar."
Arkansas will be without freshman receiver Marquel Wade, who drew a one-game suspension from the conference for a crushing hit on a Vanderbilt punt returner last Saturday. Wade was ejected from the game, and has apologized.
Updated November 1, 2011