COLUMBIA — The look on Pharoh Cooper’s face was incredulous, like someone had told him aliens exist. South Carolina’s freshman receiver took a moment to compose himself. Maybe he heard wrong.
Woo pig sooie? Cooper was puzzled.
“Woo who?” he asked, finally laughing at the foreign expression. “I ain’t heard that.”
He will Saturday. A lot.
No. 14 South Carolina travels to Arkansas for a 12:21 p.m. kickoff inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, where the famous rallying cry “Woo pig sooie” often replaces “Hello.” Amidst the exclamations of pig slop, Razorback Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Gamecocks, a bi-annual problem the program can’t solve.
Since 1992, when USC and Arkansas became annual opponents, the Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 SEC East) have won just twice in Fayetteville. The last time was 2005, when Steve Spurrier first marched USC into Razorback Stadium. Since then, Spurrier is 0-3 at Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 SEC West).
“Well, the other team has played a lot better than we have, that’s probably the biggest reason,” Spurrier said when asked about his team’s struggles in Fayetteville. “They’ve always scored a bunch of points on us out there, it seems like most of the time except for that ‘05 game, where we won. Hopefully, we’ll bring a defense. If we don’t bring a defense, I don’t know if we can score 40 or so out there. I don’t know.”
For USC to win, that may be the forecast Saturday. A high-scoring game favors the better offense, which belongs to the Gamecocks. With its late-game defensive struggles, South Carolina may need to outscore Arkansas to escape with a victory.
Given the history, escape would be an apt term.
USC senior quarterback Connor Shaw remembers an intense game two years ago, when the Gamecocks lost 44-28 at Arkansas in an evening matchup of top 10 teams. Shaw had a miserable game, completing 16 of 25 passes for 128 yards, one interception and averaging 1.7 yards per carry.
The setting will be different Saturday. Shaw said that’s a good thing.
“I think we’re pretty fortunate it’s a noon game,” Shaw said. “Obviously, playing on the road at night makes it a little bit harder. In my sophomore year going there, it was pretty difficult playing there. It’s a great atmosphere. Their fans will be ready. So, it will be a fun game for us.
“It’s always been an intense game. It’s always been a fun game. They’ve had our number more than we’ve had theirs.”
Arkansas leads the all-time series 13-8. On average, the Gamecocks have been outscored by more than a touchdown. USC gets one final chance to fix that.
Starting in 2014, Texas A&M will become the Gamecocks’ permanent SEC West opponent, and Arkansas will play Missouri annually. This weekend will be the end of an annual matchup that lasted more than 20 years, though geography kept it from ever feeling like a true rivalry.
Still, one last win against Arkansas — one rare victory at Razorback Stadium — would be rewarding for the program. The Gamecocks will be a touchdown favorite over the Hogs on Saturday, a strange twist of events.
It sets up what could be a grand final installment of this series, at least for South Carolina fans. Cooper isn’t taking anything for granted. He may only be a freshman, but he’s already seen how hostile the road can be in the SEC.
“They’re intense. It’s hard playing away games with their fan base,” Cooper said. “Like, the Georgia game was very loud. That’s probably been the loudest atmosphere I’ve been to, but you’ve just got to stay focused to the signals, play calls. Just stay focused and play ball.”
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