COLUMBIA – Playing its first game since running back Marcus Lattimore’s devastating right knee injury, 12th-ranked South Carolina beat Arkansas 38-20 today.
The Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) finished league play by equaling their best ever SEC record, set last season. With two regular season games and a bowl remaining, they sustained their hopes of matching last year’s program-best 11-2 record. If they beat Wofford next week, they will finish undefeated at home for the first time since 1987.
Arkansas (4-6, 2-4) must beat Mississippi State and LSU in order to become eligible for a bowl. Before Saturday, the Razorbacks had defeated South Carolina in three straight meetings (by 17, 21 and 16 points), and in five of the teams’ past six matchups.
Lattimore’s replacements are fifth-year senior Kenny Miles and true freshman Mike Davis. Miles ran 14 times for 37 yards. Davis ran 13 times for 53 yards and a two-yard touchdown. Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw picked apart Arkansas’ poor pass defense and completed 14 of 22 passes for 272 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
South Carolina sealed the win with 10:41 left in the third quarter, when free safety D.J. Swearinger returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown, which put USC up 31-10 and negated at least some of Arkansas’ quarterback Tyler Wilson’s success. The pick came on the play after Swearinger was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit personal foul. He celebrated his touchdown by flipping the ball into the student section, drawing another personal foul.
Wilson finished 26-of-41 passing for 277 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
South Carolina led 21-10 at halftime despite a strong performance from Wilson, who completed 14 of 22 passes for 192 yards, and stood firm to deliver a six-yard touchdown pass to Keon Hatcher, while taking a vicious hit from defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. That pass tied the game at seven with 8:12 left in the second quarter.
South Carolina’s Connor Shaw matched Wilson’s first half yardage total while connecting on nine of 15 passes, including touchdowns of 29 yards (for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter) and 42 yards (on fourth down and five, to go up 21-10 with 1:30 left in the half).
The Gamecocks were hoping for a better showing from their pass defense than they got in their most recent game, an Oct. 27 win over Tennessee, when Lattimore got hurt. The Volunteers’ quarterback, Tyler Bray, completed 27 of 43 passes for 368 yards, four touchdowns and an interception in a 38-35 South Carolina victory. The Gamecocks got little pressure on Bray.
They were able to get more pressure on Wilson in the first half, but he still hit passes of 20, 23, 23, 27 and 31 yards, with the longest two competitions going to his best receiver, Cobi Hamilton.
Yet Arkansas once again got little from its passing defense, which entered the game No. 116 of 124 teams nationally, with 292.4 yards allowed per game. Shaw hit tight end Jerell Adams over the middle for the 29-yard touchdown and found wide open receiver Bruce Ellington for the 42-yarder, capping a 75-yard drive – one of three touchdown drives of at least 70 yards for the Gamecocks in the first half.
South Carolina honored Lattimore in the first quarter by announcing that his name had been put on Williams-Brice Stadium’s interior façade, alongside other school record holders. Lattimore hold the career records for most total and rushing touchdowns. Lattimore did not attend the game. He told the crowd, in a taped message played on the video board, “I appreciate all your support. I’m feeling fine and I’m working to get back on the football field again.” Lattimore underwent surgery on Nov. 2. … South Carolina went undefeated and untied at home in nine previous seasons. Against Wofford, the Gamecocks will aim for 7-0 at home, which would equal their home records from 1979, 1980, 1984 and 1987. … Hamilton extended his streak of games with at least one catch to 32. It is the longest active streak in the SEC.