FAYETTEVILLE — Junior tight end D.J. Williams caught seven passes for 137 yards and Broderick Green scored two touchdowns as the University of Arkansas handed South Carolina a 33-16 defeat in Southeastern Conference play.
The victory moved Arkansas to 5-4 on the season, 2-4 in SEC games, while the Gamecocks dropped to 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the SEC.
"It was good to see us go out and be competitive," Razorback head coach Bobby Petrino said. "We did a nice job and I’ve very pround of our players. We passed the test today."
Sophomore quarterback Ryan Mallett had a near-perfect day, hitting 23 of 27 passes with no interceptions and 329 yards.
"He was very patient today, and took what they gave him," Petrino said of Mallett. "He threw a high percentage, and was very calm the whole game. This was perhaps his best so far at running the team."
His most consistant target was Williams, who pulled a game best for Arkansas 69-yarder.
"D.J. had a great job both blocking and passing today," Mallett said. "We were trying to throw the outs deep. They were playing us deep and we took what they gave us."
“We just got beat," USC head coach Steve Spurrier said. "We got beat by a better team today. They pretty much controlled the line of scrimmage. Their receivers caught about everything and they were able to run the ball. We were pretty much struggling all day. We made a couple plays here and there, probably left a few scoring chances out there, but you have to give Arkansas credit because they played better than us today. They just thoroughly beat us.”
The win moved Arkansas closer to bowl consideration, a fact that was emphasized again by coach and players in the post-game.
"We’ve got to get ready for next week," Petrino said. "We want to get to a bowl game and get more practice time. That’s how you build a program but getting an extra spring ball with the bowl practices."
Next up for Arkansas is a third straight home game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium with Troy next Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
"It’s fun to play at home but we have got to keep executing," Mallett said. "Our goal is not to just be bowl eligibile but to win out."
After having trouble with third down conversion in SEC games, the Razorbacks marched several long drives on USC.
"It was the difference in the game and in the long drives," Petrino said of the third down performance. "First half a little nervous because it didn’t seem like we had many possessions. Just the opposite in the second half, we had the third down conversions and we ran it in the way we wanted."
Williams’ effort was a season best, and explained how the openings were there in the USC defense.
“(Ryan) Mallett and I both saw the same thing (on third downs)," Williams said. "Their defensive backs were playing about 12 yards off, which I like to see, and they were blitzing up the middle so I was able to get out and make some plays.”
"South Carolina was really dropping deep, and we knew they weren’t going to give up many big plays," Petrino added. "To counter that, we had to check the ball down quite a bit. DJ was open, and was able to make some things happen and break some big plays for us."
The game was a back-and-forth battle in the open half, with the two teams going to intermission tied at 10-10. After a momentary lapse on the opening play of the second half, the Razorback defense shut out the Gamecocks the rest of the game.
Meanwhile Arkansas put together 23 unanswered points following the one-play scoring drive of USC at the beginning of the third quarter.
Stephen Garcia took the momentum back for the Gamecocks on the first play of the second half, play faking the dive out of the shotgun then dropping the ball deep to Alshon Jeffery at the Razorback 30. Jeffery evaded the Razorback secondary’s pursuit for the touchdown. The snap on the ensuing PAT was mishandled, and the Gamecocks settled for a six-point, 16-10, lead.
“We went forwards and backwards most of the second half," Spurrier said. "We were way too conservative there at the end of the first half. Maybe all of the good fortune we had earlier is catching up with us a bit.”
Arkansas responded quickly, moving across midfield on an 18-yard completion to London Crawford followed by a clutch play fake from Mallett on third and short. Selling the handoff up the middle, Mallett calmly pull the ball from behind his back to find Williams wide open to the Carolina nine. Michael Smith took it down to the two on the next play, setting up a sneak for Mallett on third down from the one. Alex Tejada’s PAT was good for the 17-16 lead.
Garcia marched the Gamecocks back down the field, but faltered on his attempt to find Jeffrey in the endzone. Jerrell Norton won the jump ball for the interception in the corner of the endzone to stop the drive.
“I recognized the play and knew what was coming so I just did my job," Norton said. “This week, my number was called and I knew I had to step up and perform in that situation.”
"The jump ball to Alshon Jeffery, Stephen threw it a little early but you think at worst you are going to get an incompletion in the end zone," Spurrier said. "I think we were only down eight at that time. But who knows what would have happened if he had knocked that down. But give Arkansas credit, they had an excellent pass rush all day.”
Mallett put together a seven play drive that featured a pair of Williams’ receptions, including one that put the ball on the Gamecock one. Green punched it in for the 24-16 lead.
A poor snap to Garcia sent the Carolina quarterback scurring 20 yards downfield in pursuit of the loose ball. He reached it at the two, but could not keep it away from the Razorback pressure, knocking it into the end zone where Brian Maddox covered it for a safety, 26-16. It was the first safety for Arkansas since the 2007 Kentucky game.
“I think Stephen was looking but it just went right through his hands with a lot of velocity," Spurrier said. "That was about a 40-yard, two-point play there.”
Arkansas defense sent Carolina reeling backward, then used a 38-yard punt return from Norton to set up a short-field drive to score with just under five minutes left in the game. Another clutch Williams catch set the Hogs with a first down deep in Carolina territory. Green took over with a rush to the left for three yards, then to the right for five before going straight up the gut three yards for the touchdown and a 33-16 lead.
Garcia marched USC down the field after the ensuing kickoff, but the clock became Arkansas’ greatest ally as the Gamecocks reached the Razorback four yard line on fourth down with 1:49 left. His pass was incomplete and the Hogs ran out the clock.
Arkansas’ first drive ended after a 14-yard first-down run by Green. The punt set the Gamecocks on their own 29-yard-line. Garcia worked the longest drive of the first half, taking almost six minutes off the clock and converting three third downs and a fourth down to get within the Razorback 10.
A series of miscommunications led to USC calling two time outs inside the Arkansas 10. Carolina converted a fourth down to push the ball to the Razorback one, but the defense held again and after a delay of game, USC settled for a 23-yard field goal from Spencer Lanning.
The 3-0 lead lasted just under 90 seconds as the Razorbacks paired a 39-yard screen pass to Green with an 18-yard end sweep for Adams. Adams’ touchdown run closed the four-play, 60-yard drive and a 7-3 lead with 1:24 left.
Arkansas stopped Carolina’s next drive, but the Razorbacks went with a fake punt on fourth and two on their own 26. Ronnie Wingo, Jr., never had a chance as the Gamecock rush caught him in the backfield. Four plays later, Garcia’s 1-yard quarterback sneak put Carolina back ahead, 10-10.
The teams traded drives and field position until the final 22 seconds of the half. Carolina ran down the clock on its final possession, knowing they would open the second half with the ball, and punted to Arkansas at the Hogs’ 24.
Mallett made a short pass to Williams near the 30 yard line, and the big tight end slipped the first Carolina tackler near the 35. Forcing two more to miss, Williams headed for the far sideline to pickup blocking. Cutting back near the USC 15 yard line, Williams lunged away from the pursuit to put Arkansas at the Gamecock six. Arkansas had time for one shot at the end zone before Tejada came on for a 24-yard field goal to send the teams to the lockerroom tied, 10-10.