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October 12, 2013

Flawless in Fayetteville: USC routs Arky

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Shouldn't be much negative Jadeveon Clowney talk this week.

Instead, the intermittently insane chatter from the national media, particularly that notorious network with four letters, should focus squarely on one of the most impressive victories of Steve Spurrier's nine-year tenure in Columbia.

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Firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball, South Carolina ruined Arkansas' homecoming celebration with a thunderous 52-7 victory Saturday afternoon in front of 66,302 stunned fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, extending USC's winning streak to four games and keeping the Gamecocks in the thick of the SEC East race.

The largest margin of victory in a road game (and the most points on the road) in the Steve Spurrier Era improved USC to 5-1 overall, 3-1 in SEC and continues its three-game road stretch next Saturday at Tennessee (noon, ESPN) in a divisional battle with the Volunteers at Neyland Stadium.

"Obviously, our team played the best game we have all year," Spurrier said in a joyous post-game press conference. "The offense and the defense both played well. The question now is can we continue playing well down the stretch. Can we play like this or even come close to this when we go to Knoxville next week? That will be the question."

The 45-point trouncing also represented the largest margin of victory on the road for USC since a 68-point win at Charleston in 1912, a span of 101 years.

Together with last year's 38-20 victory in Columbia, USC has won back-to-back meetings with Arkansas for the first time since 2004-05.

"I do feel badly for Arkansas," Spurrier said. "It's no fun getting your butt beat like this at home, homecoming and all that. They're probably not as strong of a team as they were when they were kicking our tails the last three times we've been here. But Bret (Bielema) and his guys need to recruit their way out of it.

"Sometimes this is all a little misleading. We're not this good and they're not that bad, but it really worked out for us today."

Saturday's win for USC came in the final meeting between USC and Arkansas as permanent cross-divisional opponents. Both schools joined the SEC in 1992 and had met every year since then. USC is picking up Texas A&M as its new permanent foe from the Western Division, while Arkansas faces border rival Missouri on an annual basis.

Georgia fell, 41-26, at home to improving Missouri, so the SEC East race is back on with the Gamecocks, Bulldogs and Florida all burdened with one conference loss. Florida lost 17-6 to the Tigers in Baton Rouge.

Game on.

Better yet, one down, two to go.

USC snapped a three-game road losing streak against SEC opponents.

"We knew going through this stretch that it was going to be tough," said Connor Shaw, who must quarterback USC through the second three-game road swing in two years. "Anytime you go three weeks (on the road) in the SEC, we had to start off strong with Arkansas. We knew we had to have that mentality coming in to play well on the road. It's something we really haven't done in recent history, especially two years ago here.

"We wanted to come out and make a statement. I think we did."

Shaw again directed a prolific USC offense, completing 19-of-28 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns, increasing his career total to 42, while Mike Davis rushed for 128 yards on 19 carries for his fifth game of 100 or more yards in 2013.

"Connor Shaw had another outstanding game and the receivers caught just about everything," Spurrier said. "We made a lot of good plays. We scored touchdowns and only had to kick one field goal early in the game."

USC, which scored 52 unanswered points over the final 52 minutes of the surprisingly one-sided contest, surpassed 500 yards of total offense for the second time this season, finishing with 537 yards compared to 248 for the overwhelmed Razorbacks. USC controlled the ball for an eye-opening 43:25 and ran 89 plays to 37 for Arkansas.

USC employed three different quarterbacks and utilized Pharoh Cooper out of the Wildcat for the second week in a row.

Arkansas entered the game as the SEC leader in sacks and had three on the day, but the USC offensive line dominated in the trenches most of the game, allowing the Gamecocks to hold onto the ball for most of the game.

"Coming into this week, all you heard was they were leading the league in sacks and they had two really good pass rushers," Shaw said. "I thought our offensive line played really well. We played very, very well up front and played smart today."

Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen completed just 4-of-12 passes for 30 yards as USC eliminated the threat of the pass from the Razorbacks' arsenal, although they did rush for 218 yards on 24 carries, with 89 coming in the fourth quarter when the outcome had already been decided.

"We challenged our defensive team this week," Spurrier said. "They've practiced better than they have in games. So, we challenged them to take it to the ballpark. I think they did. Our players on defense played well. We got some good breaks, though. They had a couple of big gains and fumbled."

The Gamecocks had four touchdown drives of 71 yards or longer and five possessions of 11 or more plays, two with 13 or more plays. In 10 total possessions, USC scored seven touchdowns, kicked a field goal, punted and fumbled.

In the second half alone when USC scored touchdowns on all four possessions and converted 8-of-10 third downs, the Gamecocks had three scoring drives of 75 yards or more, two of which drained 9:29 and 7:23 off the clock.

Arkansas ran 13 offensive plays in the second half compared to 42 for USC, whose time of possession in the final 30 minutes was an astounding 24:32.

Arkansas drove 64 yards for a touchdown on its opening possession of the game, but that was all Razorback fans had to cheer about this day. USC outgained Arkansas, 537-184 over the final 57 minutes of the game.

Shamier Jeffery had five receptions for 32 yards after entering the contest with zero career catches. Bruce Ellington (six receptions), Jeffery and Nick Jones (four) combined for 15 catches for 162 yards.

Nine different USC receivers caught a pass.

Leading 24-7 at halftime, USC put the game on ice away with pair of touchdowns in the third quarter - a 45-yard connection from Shaw to the speedy Damiere Byrd down the middle of the field less than three minutes into the third quarter and a 10-yard scramble by Shaw with 1:29 left in the third quarter.

On the second touchdown drive, Davis carried seven times for 43 yards, eclipsing the 100-yard mark before the end of the quarter.

The Gamecocks added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter as Kane Whitehurst caught a 15-yard TD pass to gain a measure of revenge against his former school and backup quarterback Brendan Nosovitch ran seven yards for a score with 1:07 left in his first career appearance.

After allowing the early scoring drive to the Razorbacks, USC dominated the final 27 minutes of the first half, gaining 254 total yards to 31 for Arkansas en route to an impressive 24-7 halftime advantage.

"The last thing you want is for a team to feel like they can come out and punch you in the mouth and score on the first drive," Victor Hampton said. "We just told ourselves we've got a whole game to play. Just stop them from now on and don't let them drive down the field."

Arkansas took the opening kickoff and quickly drove 64 yards in seven plays to grab a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest.

USC responded with a 13-play, 59-yard drive to the UA 10 before the drive faltered. Elliott Fry, who graduated from a high school located in a Dallas suburb, calmly booted a 33-yard field goal.

The possession consumed 4:48 off the clock.

Hampton, who was benched in favor of redshirt freshman Rico McWilliams at the beginning of the game, came up with the afternoon's first big defensive play when he stepped in front of an Allen pass at the UA 27 and returned it 21 yards to the UA 6-yard line, running into one of his blockers when he cut inside even though he had an open lane along the sideline into the end zone.

"It was a formation I had seen on film," Hampton said. "I'd seen them run it quite a bit, that same route. It was one of those preparation things. It just happened."

However, USC wasted little time getting into the end zone, giving the ball to Davis and he powered through the middle of the Arkansas defense for a six-yard TD run, USC's first six-pointer of the day to give USC a 10-7 lead with 5:12 left in the first quarter.

USC pieced together another five-minute scoring drive following a three-and out for the Arkansas offense. Shaw hit a wide-open Ellington in the right corner of the end zone with 13:40 left in the second quarter to increase USC's lead to 17-7.

The touchdown throw was the 40th of Shaw's career.

On USC's next possession, Shaw lofted a 53-yard pass to Ellington streaking down the left sideline, but a botched handoff between Shaw and Davis prematurely ended the drive at the UA 12.

When Arkansas' fake punt went awry with 2:20 left in the first half, USC took over at the UA 49 and Shaw promptly completed a pair of passes to Byrd and Jones to move the ball to the UA 26.

Shaw fired a laser to Ellington on a slant for a first down. Moments after USC converted a fourth down gamble, Shaw found Ellington in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown pass to catapult USC to a 24-7 halftime lead.

Shaw was 15-of-24 for 149 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, while Davis had 68 yards on 10 carries. Arkansas had 31 yards of offense after totaling 64 on the opening drive.

USC had 16 first downs to four for Arkansas.

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