South Carolina kicked off SEC play this weekend with a 44-30 loss to No. 16 Arkansas at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The South Carolina defense struggled to handle the power of the Arkansas quarterback, redshirt junior KJ Jefferson. In the first half, Jefferson connected with sophomore running back Rahiem Sanders for two touchdowns.
The Razorback offense led the way for the home team in its first SEC win of the season. Jefferson threw for one touchdown and finished with an 86% completion rate.
“I give credit to Arkansas,” head coach Shane Beamer said following the road defeat. “They got a heck of a football team, showed that today.”
Junior kicker Mitch Jeter got South Carolina on the board, scoring a 28-yard field goal during the first quarter. Jeter started to struggle and missed an extra point kick in the second quarter.
Injuries played a huge factor in Saturday's lineup for the Gamecocks.
Familiar faces like junior wide receiver Corey Rucker and fifth-year defensive back RJ Roderick did not travel to Arkansas with the team due to injuries.
Redshirt junior defensive back Cam Smith also left the game because of an upper-body injury.
“We knew how talented and big and physical they were, but I'd like to think we played pretty physical as well,” Beamer said. “When you don't play with RJ Roderick, you don't play with David Spaulding, you lose Cam Smith during the game, you lose Mo Kaba during the game, you lose Jordan Strachan during the game … we got worn down in some ways.”
South Carolina's offense had a tough day against junior linebacker Drew Sanders and the Razorback defense.
Sanders sacked redshirt junior quarterback Spencer Rattler for a loss of eight yards late in the first quarter. The offensive line allowed Rattler to be sacked six times during the game for a total loss of 51 yards.
The offense struggled with completing passes and was plagued by turnovers at key points in the game. Rattler threw for only 61% completion with one interception in the end zone and one touchdown.
“We felt really good about our ability to throw the football, there's no question about it,” Beamer said. “We felt like we could certainly take our shots downfield which is what we did. We’ve got to be able to run the football, there is no doubt about it, but each week is different with how we are going to try and win football games.”
Arkansas continued to show dominance over South Carolina through the second half of the game. A 23 point fourth-quarter outburst secured the win for the Razorbacks even as South Carolina added 14 points in the final quarter.
The Gamecocks started to gain momentum but could not match Arkansas.
Rattler continuously wrestled with the pass rush and crowd noise but was able to connect with transfer junior running back Antwane Wells Jr. for 62 yards late in the third quarter. Wells Jr. finished the game with eight receptions for 185 yards and a touchdown.
“We felt like we had a great advantage with our receivers and tight ends versus their defensive backs today, that's why we threw it as we did," Beamer said. "We had a lot of opportunities out there in all three phases, and I'm proud of the way our guys continue to fight and battle. I felt like we were going to win the game up until that last last drive right there when we got the safety.”
The Gamecocks will continue SEC play when the team returns to Columbia to host the Georgia Bulldogs at noon on Saturday, Sept. 17.