Can South Carolina Break Its Arkansas Curse?

COLUMBIA SC - NOVEMBER 06: Jarius Wright #4 of the Arkansas Razorbacks has a pass broken up by Marty Markett #39 of the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 6 2010 in Columbia South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

One consequence of SEC expansion is that 2012 will be the final year of the designated rivalry between Arkansas and South Carolina in order to pair up the Razorbacks with bordering Missouri. I've seen conflicting opinions from both sides about how important the series is, but either way, they have more history with each other than almost anyone else in the 12-team SEC.

An interesting stat that I turned up a couple years back is that South Carolina has never defeated an Arkansas team that finished the season above .500. That fact has remained true to this day. The Gamecocks can't figure out a way to beat a good Razorback team.

Lately, it's been the case that South Carolina's normally good passing defense cannot handle Bobby Petrino's system. It's true that Bobby himself is gone now, but they'll still be running it for at least one more year with his brother Paul calling the plays this fall. Here is how the Gamecock defense has done over the last three seasons against all BCS conference teams minus Arkansas, and then how it did against the Razorbacks:

Opp. Comp. Pct Yards/Att. TD Pct. INT Pct. Pass Eff.
All BCS, not Ark 53.8% 5.99 4.37% 5.57% 112.54
Arkansas 67.4% 9.80 3.16% 3.13% 155.90
Difference +13.6% +3.81 -1.2% -2.4% +43.36

It's true that Arkansas is simply more adept at passing than most BCS conference teams South Carolina has faced, but the gaps here are enormous. The Pigs completed over two thirds of their passes, gained nearly four yards more per attempt, and passed much more efficiently. The only delta here in South Carolina's favor is that the Hogs haven't thrown touchdowns at as high a rate as other BCS opponents did, but they also threw interceptions at a lower rate.

This situation puzzles me for three reasons. First, Ellis Johnson had been running a 4-2-5 defense during this time, which should have been effective against the pass. Second, the above shows that South Carolina's defense was largely effective against the pass against most everyone else. It had its breakdowns here and there, but it was good overall.

Third, Chris Brown of Smart Football has cataloged how Petrino subsumed the old Fun 'n' Gun into his passing attack. There's more to Petrino's playbook, of course, but it's all still there. You'd think if anyone could help stop that kind of stuff, it'd be Steve Spurrier himself. No such luck, apparently.

Arkansas will almost certainly finish above .500 again, so this is one last chance for South Carolina to defeat a decent-or-better Razorback team before they only see each other twice every 12 years. The game is in Columbia, the East title very well could be on the line, and Arkansas's interim head coach is known more for ruining big games than winning them. If not now, then when?

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