Steve Spurrier doesn't have to be reminded of how tough it can be to play in Fayetteville, Ark. Spurrier has lost three straight games, all by double digits, on the road to the Razorbacks. Since taking over as South Carolina's head coach in 2005, he's won there just once -- his first time.
"They've outplayed us every time we've been out there since '05," Spurrier said. "Well, they actually outplayed us that day, but somehow or another we squirmed around and beat them 14-10."
That was the last time South Carolina even beat Arkansas in back-to-back games, so you can understand if the Head Ball Coach has some apprehension about this road trip. Forget that the Hogs are stumbling into this meeting with three straight losses, Saturday's game will be a physical bout that should leave both the winner and loser battered and bruised.
For No. 14 South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC), this is a crucial matchup with the Hogs (3-3, 0-2 SEC). With as wacky as the SEC East has been this year, the Gamecocks know they can't afford to stumble now if they want to get to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. Not with Georgia limping around with injuries, Florida's offense still in question and Missouri attempting to make a run.
"The pressure is off of us," quarterback Connor Shaw said. "Of course it's going to be in the back of our minds that we're going to be hoping that there's gonna be a slip-up and we're gonna find our way in Atlanta, kinda like Georgia has the past two years."
Shaw is right about the pressure: That is firmly on Georgia. But that doesn't downplay Saturday's significance. The SEC East's round-robin is about to begin, as Missouri travels to Georgia this weekend before hosting Florida. The Gators then have Georgia and South Carolina remaining, and the Gamecocks travel to Mizzou in three weeks.
"It's very important that we go and get this win on the road because we still have a lot of our goals out there that we still want to accomplish and this game is in front of them," defensive end Chaz Sutton said.
It won't be easy. The Razorbacks sport one of the SEC's best running games, averaging 216 yards a contest and 5.1 yards per carry. Freshman Alex Collins is having a stellar year, leading the SEC with 651 rushing yards, while sidekick Jonathan Williams is fifth in the SEC with 503 rushing yards.
This rushing duo was stuffed last week against the Gators, totaling just 86 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, but South Carolina doesn't have the run defense Florida has. The Gamecocks are surrendering 62 more rushing yards a game than the Gators and gave up 227 yards on the ground when they faced a quality rushing duo at Georgia.
Sutton knows that South Carolina's key to success on Saturday starts with a defensive front that has had to deal with inexperience and injuries thus far.
"We have to come prepared mentally and physically because we know it's going to be 60 minutes of a downhill run game," Sutton said.
The good news for the Gamecocks is that they can combat Arkansas' running game with their own tank of a back in Mike Davis. He's third in the SEC in rushing (614 yards) and first in touchdowns (eight). Arkansas' rush defense has played decently, so Davis' impact will have to be felt early and often to wear this defense down.
Also expect some fourth-quarter dramatics. While the Razorbacks have struggled in the fourth quarter this season, scoring just 21 points in the final frame, the Gamecocks have relinquished double-digit second-half leads the past three weeks, allowing 58 fourth-quarter points in the process.
Shaw said "careless" turnovers, special-teams blunders and a "lack of focus" have hurt this team. Sutton said it's immaturity with younger players on defense. Regardless, the Gamecocks have to sure that area up if they're going to escape Fayetteville with a win.
"They have to know that they have to play mentally [tough] the whole game," Sutton said. "They can't just back off because we have a 35-7 or whatever sort of lead during the game. You have to play for 60 minutes."