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November 5, 2011

USC-Arkansas: Key battles

GamecockCentral.com breaks down the key matchups for South Carolina's game against Arkansas. At what positions will the game be decided?

T.J. Johnson vs. Jerry Franklin
South Carolina needs to establish its offense from the get-go tonight, be it running or passing. Arkansas will doubtless put some points on the board, and USC needs to answer every one; otherwise, tonight could be another in a string of long evenings in the Ozarks. It's a solid bet that the Gamecocks will seek to present Arkansas with the same solution that beat Tennessee last week - several doses of tailback Brandon Wilds and the legs of quarterback Connor Shaw, but anyone who thinks that will be the sole method of offense is kidding themselves. This is a Steve Spurrier team, for crying out loud, and there will be some passing done. How much is really dependent on two things - how comfortable Spurrier feels in opening the deep-pass playbook, and that comes from how well the pass-blocking is. Johnson and his teammates haven't been getting the push necessary to create the crucial extra second for Shaw to hang in the pocket and find a man downfield, and it's cost the Gamecocks in the realm of explosive plays. If Johnson can just protect Shaw long enough to first hit some slants (Arkansas is very susceptible to them), perhaps Shaw won't be so quick to run under pressure and can unleash that gazelle wearing No. 1 on the right side. Franklin will surely be bringing heat.
D.J. Swearinger vs. Jarius Wright
Yeah, gonna have to cover him. Wright is the top receiver in Arkansas' arsenal, although USC's secondary is going to have to be wary of all of them. Wright has 709 yards and seven touchdowns on 44 catches this year, and going with the idea that he'll be used for long passing situations, that puts him into Swearinger's territory. Swearinger is playing the best ball of his career right now, with two interceptions over his past two games, and is becoming the guy that lines up with the opponent's best receiver. There will be plenty of short and long throws in the Razorbacks' fill-the-air approach, and Swearinger should see a few come his way. Acrobatic or otherwise, as they have been in the past two weeks, USC needs his ball-hawking skills at their top tonight.
Melvin Ingram vs. Tyler Wilson
The good news is that Arkansas has given up 17 sacks. The bad news is that Wilson is very unlikely to get knocked out of the game - he's the kind that just keeps getting up. Still, can't hurt to try, and that comes down to Ingram first, Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor second and third. The Gamecocks relentlessly pressured Justin Worley last week, but hardly ever put him on the ground - the lanky freshman got off two passes while defenders had his legs wrapped. Wilson, obviously much more savvy than Worley, will pick a team apart if he's given just that extra second to throw, so USC has to get to him and knock him down, disrupt the pass, hit his arm, anything to keep the ball at the line of scrimmage. Ingram, the team's leader in sacks and tackles for loss, leads the way.
Rodney Paulk vs. Ronnie Wingo Jr.
Yes, Arkansas will pass, and yes, Arkansas will pass a lot, but Wingo Jr. isn't too shabby of a runner. Everybody thought that when Knile Davis went down in the preseason that it would be a crippling blow - not so much, as it opened Wilson to do his thing and really a tailback by committee rushing attack. Wingo Jr., big and fast, has 347 yards to lead the group. Paulk, also playing his best football since his all-star freshman year, needs to be on point, clogging up the middle of the defense. Arkansas' offensive line, as usual, is stocked with prime beef, which could push Travian Robertson and company out of the way. Paulk has to be ready to stop what's coming at him.
Rokevious Watkins vs. Jake Bequette
The usual, which goes hand-in-hand with Johnson. Shaw needs room to throw, and that mostly comes from protecting his left side. Bequette only has two sacks on the season, but give him time to get back there and he'll get more. Watkins has been OK in at least pushing the defenders out and away, although sometimes that allows a trailing linebacker or corner to come through the hole, but if Watkins can just get one guy off Shaw's back, that's a positive.

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