FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. -- Here came the blitz, and South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw took a step back and flicked a pass before he could get sacked. Fitting of an ineffective offensive night for the Gamecocks, the ball sailed into a cluster of Arkansas defenders and was intercepted by linebacker Alonzo Highsmith at the USC 20-yard line.
The Razorbacks failed to get points off the turnover, coming up short on a fourth-and-goal at the 2. It was the third time in the second half that USC's defense had kept Arkansas from scoring a touchdown when the Razorbacks were in prime position to do so.
But it didn't matter. USC's next drive ended with another blitz, when defensive end Jake Bequette crushed Shaw. The ball popped loose and Arkansas got it at the 1. Shaw remained motionless on the turf, having suffered a concussion. He eventually walked off the field under his own power and watched as Arkansas punched in the decisive touchdown in the eighth-ranked Razorbacks' 44-28 victory over No. 8 USC.
So the Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2 SEC) left Razorback Stadium on a crisp Saturday night needing help from Georgia to make the SEC championship game, and perhaps heading into next week's
SEC finale against Florida without their quarterback. USC coach Steve Spurrier was encouraged by Shaw being aware on the sideline after he got hit, though he's not sure how much that means for the likelihood of Shaw being ready for Florida.
"Hopefully, it's not a real deep concussion, but we'll just have to wait and see," Spurrier said.
If Shaw can't play, USC would go with redshirt freshman Dylan Thompson, combined with some Wildcat plays for wide receiver Bruce Ellington of Berkeley High.
Playing in just their fourth matchup ever of top 10 teams, the Gamecocks needed to beat Arkansas to control their own destiny as they try to win the SEC East and make the league championship game for the second straight year.
They hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over Georgia, which is 5-1 in the SEC with league games remaining against Auburn and Kentucky, both at home. Auburn, Georgia's opponent Saturday, is the likelier team to give USC the help it needs.
USC looked inept offensively for most of the night. The Gamecocks were outgained 435 to 207. Shaw completed 16 of 25 passes for 128 yards.
The Gamecocks were down 30-21 going into the fourth quarter and desperately needed a legitimate touchdown drive. Their first touchdown drive was aided by Arkansas penalties, their second by Victor Hampton's 55-yard kickoff return, which gave USC the ball at Arkansas' 45.
And they finally got an impressive touchdown drive - 13 plays, 80 yards - that ended with a 1-yard sneak by Shaw with 10:30 left in the game.
But the Razorbacks (8-1, 4-1) answered with an eight-play, 63-yard touchdown drive to go up 37-28. Earlier in the half, the USC defense had forced Arkansas to settle for a field goal when it had first and goal at the 7, then another field goal when it had first and 10 at the 15.
As it turned out, the Gamecocks - who had lost their previous three top 10 vs. top 10 games - dug themselves too big of a hole in the first half. USC was fortunate to trail 24-14 after the half, during which it was out-gained 253-49.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson threw for 175 yards in the first half and finished 20 of 37 for 299 and touchdowns of 16 and 68 yards. USC entered the game allowing 135.9 passing yards per game, which ranked third in the country.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was equally displeased with his unit's pass rush and coverage.
"If you're going to let him run around for four-and-a-half seconds, somebody's going to be open," Johnson said. "That being said, we didn't cover extremely well tonight."
Or, as cornerback Victor Hampton said of Wilson, "He really torched us."
Being beaten so soundly was an unfamiliar feeling for these Gamecocks, whose only previous loss was 16-13 to Auburn - the team they will now root for from afar this week.
"They were a lot better than we were tonight, certainly," Spurrier said.