FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas is beginning to figure out some things that work on offense, but the defense is still a work in progress and is in for another big challenge this week.
The Hogs (2-2, 0-1) allowed 344 passing yards in a 42-24 win over New Mexico State and will face one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks this Saturday when they visit South Carolina (3-2, 1-2) for a 3 p.m. kickoff on the SEC Network.
South Carolina sophomore Jake Bentley has thrown for 1,257 passing yards and nine touchdowns against four picks, and is fifth among SEC quarterbacks on third-down completion percentage, an area in which the Razorbacks have struggled so far this season.
“I think they’re taking advantage of all the resources they have, and that starts with the quarterback,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. “The quarterback is a good player. He’s a heady player, he’s a coach’s son, he understands the game very thoroughly, he understands their offense very thoroughly.”
The 6-3, 220-pound quarterback isn’t a dual-threat by definition but has shown the ability to move when he has to.
“He’s the guy they lean on. He’s a tough guy,” Rhoads said. “He’s not afraid to run it. If you give him space, he’s going to run it and he’s going to drop a shoulder. He’s not going to slide to the ground. He’s going to gain the extra yard if it’s available to him.
“At the same time, if he sees a receiver wide-open, he’s going to let it fly in a scramble situation. He’s got a big touchdown out of that because of it.”
The Gamecocks caught a tough break in Week 3 when All-SEC receiver Deebo Samuel suffered a season-ending injury. Stepping up to replace Samuel and lighten the load of a rushing attack that averages just 84 yards per game are sophomore receiver Bryan Edwards and junior tight end Hayden Hurst, who owns 221 yards and a touchdown.
“I think the tight end is the most targeted tight end we’ve faced thus far,” Rhoads said. “He’s a guy who’s a vital part of the offense and he’s going to be involved in it. It doesn’t change what we do, but it heightens your awareness of a guy sometimes forgotten as far as the offensive system.”
Defensively, the Gamecocks are dealing with the same struggles as the Razorbacks in trying to stop opposing passing attacks.
South Carolina is giving up 253.8 passing yards per game, which ranks 11th in the SEC, and has allowed its last two opponents to complete 70 percent of their passes.
While the overall statistics aren’t great, the Hogs know South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp always presents a tough defensive challenge.
“He’s obviously a very, very good coach,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos said. “They’re very well-coached, they’re very sound and they play extremely hard. They’re very multiple and do a lot of different things. It gives you a lot to prepare for. He was at Auburn two years ago when I was here. He’s got a great reputation for a reason.”
Arkansas’ coaching staff probably won’t have any trouble getting running back David Williams ready to face Muschamp’s defense. Williams transferred to the UA from South Carolina as a graduate-transfer this past summer.
While he probably has plenty to say about his former team, he and head coach Bret Bielema decided it’s best to avoid interviews this week.
“We opted together that we’re not going to have him available to the media until Saturday,” Bielema said. “Not out of negativity or anything, just no need for more dialogue than there already is.”