Arkansas sophomore cornerback Tevin Mitchel pulls down his first interception Saturday against South Carolina.
Building blocks for future
It seems like Arkansas fans have been looking down the road forever – or at least since Bobby Petrino was fired in April – and the biggest positives out of Saturday’s 38-20 loss at No. 12 South Carolina have to do with the future.
The Razorbacks certainly didn’t have their best performance of the year or their worst. It was just another ugly loss in a season full of disappointment.
But one thing the new coach will be glad to know is that several young players got invaluable experience in a hostile SEC road environment Saturday.
And several of them made some nice plays.
“Our young guys played hard,” Coach John L. Smith said. “They’re going to learn a lot from this, which they have to.
“Our kids played hard, particularly our young linebackers and DBs. They’ll learn a lot and did learn a lot. And then on the offensive side, the young guys, again … Jonathan (Williams) played well. He stayed in and battled hard, as did (Keon) Hatcher, as did everybody over there. They continued to fight.”
The highlights from the younger Hogs or first-year Hogs:
Otha Peters led Arkansas in tackles in his first career start.
• True freshman wide receiver Hatcher’s first career catch was a six-yard touchdown catch that tied the score at 7-7 in the first quarter.
• True freshman middle linebacker Otha Peters made his first career start and finished with a team-high eight tackles and one quarterback hurry.
• While he isn't a young player, junior wide receiver Demetrius Wilson, who’s in his first season at Arkansas, got his first career touchdown catch on a nine-yard reception with 39 seconds left.
• True freshman running back Williams finished as the Razorbacks’ leading rusher, producing 61 yards on seven carries, and led the Hogs with 74 all-purpose yards.
• Sophomore cornerback Tevin Mitchel got his first career interception.
• True freshman linebacker A.J. Turner made his fourth career start, finishing with six tackles and his first career sack.
• And true freshman receiver Mekale McKay was the third-leading receiver with three catches for 49 yards.
South Carolina’s defense
Jadeveon Clowney taunts Tyler Wilson after sacking him. Clowney had two tackles and a sack.
The Gamecocks entered with the nation’s 12th-ranked defense, and although they allowed almost 60 more yards than their season average, they did a solid job of shutting down Arkansas.
Two of their top players looked as good as advertised.
Senior D.J. Swearinger, who was moved from safety to cornerback for this game, finished with a game-high 13 tackles and returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown. He also got a couple of uncalled for penalties, but the good definitely outweighed the bad.
Sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney looked unstoppable at times and had two tackles for loss, including a sack.
Arkansas senior quarterback Tyler Wilson was definitely aware of where he was and survived a hard shot from Clowney in the second quarter when he threw the touchdown pass to Hatcher. Clowney put a swim move on junior offensive tackle David Hurd to basically get a free shot on Wilson as he threw the pass.
Early in the game, senior offensive tackle Jason Peacock had to basically tackle Clowney from behind to keep him from getting a free shot on Wilson. And later in the first quarter, Clowney got his sack, slinging Wilson to the ground for six-yard loss.
Senior wide receiver Cobi Hamilton was held to four catches Saturday, but he tried to make the most out of them, finishing with 74 receiving yards.
Tyler Wilson broke Clint Stoerner's UA record for career completions.
Along the way, he also set the UA’s single-season receiving yards record (1,149). Jarius Wright set the previous record last season with 1,117 yards.
In addition, Tyler Wilson and junior kicker Zach Hocker also put their names in the UA record book.
Wilson set Arkansas’ career completions record (539 and counting). Clint Stoerner had held the record with 528 set from 1996-1999.
Hocker broke the UA record for career points by a kicker. With eight points against South Carolina, he has 285 for his career. Steve Little (1974-77) had held the record with 280 points.
Turnover troubles continue
You don’t usually win when you turn the ball over three times on the road – especially against an SEC opponent that’s ranked in the BCS Top 10.
But Arkansas did just that, and two of its top players made the mistakes.
Senior running back Dennis Johnson lost a fumble at the South Carolina 5-yard line early in the second quarter. Johnson was fighting for extra yards when he rolled over the defender who was tackling him, stretched the ball out with one hand and dropped it.
Tyler Wilson threw two interceptions, including the pick-six. Both appeared to be just bad throws.
“I think the pick-six was the big momentum changer that hurt us, but it was a game of mistakes,” Smith said.
Tough day for O-line
Even though Tyler Wilson had been getting hit a lot, Arkansas’ offensive line hadn’t given up many sacks all season.
That changed against South Carolina, which sacked Wilson four times for minus-38 yards and hurried him four other times.
That was just part of a tough day for the offensive line.
Johnson had his streak of 100-yard rushing performances end at two. He managed just 41 yards on 11 carries, his lowest output since the loss at Texas A&M in late September.
South Carolina had scored 10 straight points in the third quarter to go ahead 31-10, and the Gamecocks seemed to have all the momentum.
It also seemed pretty clear the Razorbacks’ defense was going to have a hard time stopping them.
Arkansas drove from its 25-yard line to the South Carolina four-yard line, where the Hogs faced fourth-and-goal.
Instead of going for the touchdown and making it a two-possession game, Smith opted to kick the short field goal. The Razorbacks ended up with three points that didn’t matter and missed an opportunity to swing momentum back in their favor.
At that point in the game – and at this point in the season – some would say the Razorbacks probably should have gone for the six.
Smith defended the decision after the game.
“There’s still six, seven minutes in the third quarter, almost, and you’ve got a lot of ballgame left,” he said. “Something positive. And I felt like getting a positive thing, getting some points on the board was important to us, particularly at that point. So I just wanted to make sure I do that.
“Drive it down there and don’t get a point at all. I don’t know. I just wanted something positive so maybe we can start to get a little momentum going. So that was our thought there, plus there was still a large amount of the game left.”