Fresh off an impressive season-opening win, No. 16 Arkansas now opens Southeastern Conference play against a familiar and potentially dangerous opponent when it hosts South Carolina on Saturday at Fayetteville, Ark.
The Razorbacks (1-0) lead the all-time series 13-10 against South Carolina (1-0), but the Gamecocks have won the past three meetings, including a 48-22 win at Columbia, S.C., in 2017.
“South Carolina has a really good team,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “A hard-playing team, really good in all three phases. Coach (Shane) Beamer’s done an excellent job there and they’re playing with a lot of passion. So we’re excited that it’s home. I think our crowd has proven that we have a good home-field advantage.”
Pittman opened his third season as Arkansas’ coach with a 31-24 victory over Cincinnati last week in a matchup of Top 25 teams. Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson threw for 223 yards and three touchdowns, while also running for another score.
Arkansas has gone from a perpetual underdog in Pittman’s first season to a team that was ranked for eight weeks last season. They were ranked No. 19 last week before moving up three spots.
“You see your name in the top 25 and all that kind of stuff; we’ve been there for a while now,” Pittman said. “But we have a smart group of kids, and they believe in their coaches. Their belief in what we’ve done, in what we do at practice and how we play is the only reason why we’re winning.”
Beamer, the son of former legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, is trying to follow a similar path at South Carolina. And last week, at least, his squad took a page out of his father’s book during a 35-14 win over Georgia State powered largely by the Gamecocks’ special teams.
South Carolina blocked two punts and returned them for touchdowns. Gamecocks kicker Mitch Jeter nailed field goals from 53 and 51 yards, and even their long snapper Hunter Rogers converted a first down on a fake field goal that led to a first-half touchdown.
While Beamer’s team mirrored the special teams-driven “Beamer Ball” style of his father, Shane Beamer credited his defense for setting up such big plays like the blocked punts.
“We were able to block those punts because we kept getting stops on defense and coming into this game, we knew we needed to stop the run, we knew we needed to hit the quarterback, and for the most part, we did that,” Beamer said.
Beamer led South Carolina to a 7-6 record and a victory over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl last season – just one year after the Gamecocks went 2-8.
But Beamer stressed the need for offensive improvement. South Carolina went 3 of 14 on third downs and was limited to only 2.5 yards per rushing attempt. Transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler was sacked three times and completed 23 of 37 passes for 227 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown.
“We certainly have to be better offensively, and we will be,” Beamer said.
–Field Level Media
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