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Hogs treat homecomers to ensemble performance 

Anyone who saw the homecoming game knows Casey Dick wasn't throwing the ball all that well. The senior quarterback and head whipping boy completed 28 of 35 passes for 358 yards last Saturday, receiving SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his trouble, though many of his passes were tossed well behind his intended receiver. Plus, he got lots of yardage from post-catch spin moves and general beastliness on the part of our talented position players. The best throw of his career got dropped by Joe Adams on our 5 yard line. His last throw of the fourth quarter almost cost us the game. Thankfully, the defense held strong.

I don't mean to downplay Dick's individual performance; I mean to emphasize our play as a team. It's been a season of glimmers for the Razorbacks: a bright hope here, an amazing play there. But Saturday, Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks treated us to the most complete team performance of the year. Our offensive scheme looked every bit as exciting as Tulsa's much-touted attack. So much so, in fact, that our talented and undersized workhorse, Michael Smith, all but got the day off. Seems like every prized recruit got a major play in, and some of our more experienced players looked extra studly. Even Alex Tejada managed to redeem himself with three key field goals.

But despite our offense's often dazzling performance, our defense won us the game. Malzahn's offense was as advertised: tricky, fast and balanced. We held them to exactly half of their average points per game, but more importantly we held them when it mattered: on 6 of 15 third downs and two fourth downs, one of which was their last play of the game and in the red zone. Matt Harris had just under a million solo tackles, our line kept pressure on Tulsa's fine QB, and the linebackers played very smart against a wily running team. I still cringe every time a team attacks our corners, but I saw them turn and find the ball often enough.

A similar effort this week will claim the game for us. Don't let Stephen Garcia's two touchdowns against Tennessee last week fool you; the Gamecocks haven't solved their problems on offense. The Head Ball Coach has gotta be ramping up the dosage on his blood pressure meds this season, as it seems that quarterback play is the only thing keeping South Carolina (6-3, 3-3) from being a real force in the conference. The Gamecocks' defense and special teams play is among the best in the league.

Of course, South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was Petrino's first big hire earlier this year, and for good reason, but Johnson jumped ship a month later when the same position in his home state came open. His defense will be among the toughest we've faced. Alex Tejada's return to form couldn't come at a better time, because we definitely won't be seeing the endzone all that often. Our best hope will be the Gamecocks' offensive woes. If Johnson's replacement at Arkansas, Willy Robinson, can put together a game plan as effective as last week's, we just might squeak out the win. And, looking forward to a very poor Mississippi State team, we might just find ourselves in a position to snag a bowl game.

Um, knock on wood.

 

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