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October 11, 2013

Five predictions for Arkansas game

The final game between South Carolina and Arkansas as permanent cross-division opponents takes place Saturday at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark. Here are five predictions for the matchup between the Gamecocks and Hawgs.

1. The two teams will combine for at least 85 rushing attempts: No SEC team has run the ball more than Arkansas with 253 attempts in six games, an average of 42.2 per game. USC is averaging 41.6 attempts per game. Both teams make running the ball a priority within their offensive schemes. Why not? Mike Davis (122.8 ypg), Alex Collins (108.5) and Jonathan Williams (83.8) are three of the eight most productive running backs in the conference. Davis already has four 100-yard rushing games and is second in the SEC in scoring at 9.6 points per game. He has three runs of 50+ yards this season. Collins has led Arkansas in rushing four times this season, Williams twice. Collins became the first Arkansas true freshman to reach the century mark in his debut since Felix Jones in 2005.

2. Jadeveon Clowney will silence his critics: Steve Spurrier contended Thursday night during his call-in show that Clowney remained questionable for Saturday's game with the muscle strain in his rib cage. The guess here, though, is that claim is more about the cat-and-mouse game coaches prefer to play regarding the availability of injured players. Later, he said Clowney would probably play. Why not? Clowney has faced an avalanche of criticism this week and surely he's craving the opportunity to silence his critics. That's the only way - play and play well. Clowney has been under the neutron microscope all season, so all eyes will be on him when he's on the field. A sack or two and multiple tackles for loss next to Clowney's name should be the result.

3. USC will have more sacks than Arkansas: Arkansas has the highest sack differential (plus-12) in the SEC, while USC is second at plus-7. They are the only two SEC teams with more than 100 yards in losses by sacks (Arkansas 123 yards; USC 106 yards), so we'll be watching two of the best pass rushes in the conference on Saturday. Of course, how many opportunities they get is up in the air considering both team like to run the football. However, USC has collected at least two sacks in every game this season with a season high of five against Vanderbilt. Chris Smith of Arkansas is tied for the SEC lead in sacks with six, but Kelcy Quarles has four sacks and Clowney two. A motivated Clowney should be the difference for the Gamecocks.

4. Connor Shaw's interception-less streak will continue: Shaw has thrown 138 consecutive passes without an interception and has completed 68.8 percent of his pass attempts, putting him on pace for the single season school record set last season by Shaw (67.5 percent). Shaw will face an Arkansas defense that has four interceptions in 189 pass attempts - one pick for every 47.3 passes - and is allowing 61.4 percent of passes to be completed. The Razorbacks have allowed 11 touchdown passes, second-highest in the SEC behind Texas A&M. The Razorbacks are halfway through the regular season and no Arky defender has more than one interception with 24 pass breakups (4.0 per game). Shaw has been very accurate throwing the football, so unless he makes a grievous mistake, he will conclude the first half of the 2013 schedule without throwing an interception.

5. Shamier Jeffery will catch his first pass: Spurrier talked Thursday night about changes on offense and defense. When asked, Spurrier Jr. has praised Jeffery's work ethic in practice in spite of his lack of any reward in a game. Jeffery is now in his third year in the program and he has yet to catch a pass. Will Saturday finally be the day we see Jeffery make a reception? Why not. The coaches appear to be in the mood this week of giving opportunities to players that haven't been on the field in order to send a message to the regulars. Jeffery is one of those players. He dropped a catchable pass a few weeks ago and hasn't been seen since. Jeffery will finally get on the statistics chart this week.

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