COLUMBIA -- South Carolina did not play like a title-worthy team Saturday, but somehow the Gamecocks will get a chance to play for one next week.
No. 17 Arkansas blistered listless South Carolina, 41-20, in front of a quickly emptying group of 75,136 fans at chilly Williams-Brice Stadium.
"We had a bad night, had a terrible night," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "I apologize to the fans. We weren't even competitive much tonight.
"The way we played, you'd wonder how we won six games this year. For some reason, we didn't have much tonight."
It was the second-worst home loss of Spurrier's six years with the Gamecocks -- and that's for an 18th-ranked team that was 5-0 at home this season, including the rousing upset of then-No. 1 Alabama.
The result Saturday was gunning for history until USC defensive end Byron McKnight recovered a fumble for a touchdown with four minutes to go in the game.
South Carolina defensive head coach Ellis Johnson was asked when Arkansas took control of the game.
"Kickoff," Johnson said.
Beyond the carnage, there's an improbable slice of hope dangling in front of the Gamecocks.
Florida (6-3, 4-3 SEC) and South Carolina (6-3, 4-3) -- regardless of the meandering paths to get there -- will settle the division title in the Swamp on Saturday.
Yes, a three-loss team will represent the East in Atlanta.
"We are where we are," Spurrier said. "We're going to play them next week for the Eastern Division championship. It doesn't really matter what either team has done up until the game next week.
"The only thing we can do now is regroup. Whatever we can do to improve, we will try to do that to give ourselves a chance next week."
South Carolina has never played in the SEC title game. That will remain the case if anything resembling Saturday's effort is duplicated.
"We weren't ourselves tonight," USC senior captain and tight end Pat DiMarco said. "We need to step our game up."
For the second time this season, South Carolina's offense went missing after freshman running back Marcus Lattimore went down with an injury.
As opposed to Kentucky, where he left with a sprained ankle, Lattimore did return from a bruised left knee.
But he didn't have the same burst, finishing with a season-low 30 yards on 11 carries. Lattimore, like most USC starters, didn't play the fourth quarter -- after USC trailed 41-10 with 11:10 to play.
"He wasn't quite 100 percent, I don't think," Spurrier said. "Our run game didn't go near where we thought it would go tonight."
Meanwhile, Arkansas ran and passed at will. Knile Davis had 110 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Wait, weren't the Hogs and their air attack, ranked second in the country, supposed to come in throwing?
Ryan Mallett wasn't bad, by any means. The junior quarterback went 21 for 30 for 303 yards and a touchdown before getting to watch most of the fourth quarter.
"They didn't know what to expect," Davis said of Arkansas' balance. "We had whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it."
Connor Shaw was in at quarterback and Brian Maddox was playing running back with 10 minutes to go in a 31-point game. The stands were nearly empty and taillights lined Bluff Road to Interstate 77.
And this was in a game that had USC favored by a field goal or so.
"It was kind of like we were playing to get the game over with," Arkansas' Davis said of the second half. "That's the point you want to get in every game -- where they just quit, give up and know they're going to lose."
There were brief, fleeting moments in the first half in which USC appeared it would compete.
After Alshon Jeffery (seven catches, 99 yards) made an incredible one-handed snag for 21 yards, the Gamecocks had first-and-goal at the 6 with eight minutes and change left in the first half.
USC could've gone up 14-10 at that point.
But then a 10-yard sack of Stephen Garcia, which appeared to actually be a Garcia fumble on replay, knocked the drive for a loop. It ended with kicker Spencer Lanning putting a 29-yard field goal try into the left upright. It fell to the turf for a miss and no points.
After a quick Arkansas scoring drive -- four plays and 80 yards -- USC's next possession ended with an ill-fated fake punt call. Needing 6 yards, fullback Dalton Wilson got zero.
(After the game, Spurrier said he'd call the fake again.)
Three plays later, Arkansas was in the end zone on a Davis 21-yard run down the sideline. The Gamecocks showed little interest in tackling much of the night, including that play.
"There's still some things we need to clean up, obviously," USC safety Akeem Auguste said.
Some suggested this week that the game was meaningless, with Florida up next for the division crown.
Garcia acknowledged afterward that the team's focus might have been elsewhere. The final score seemed to back up that notion.
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