Successful running game key to a Razorback victory at South Carolina

If you want a clue to the Arkansas Razorbacks’ general offensive game plan for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at South Carolina, then check out the tape from Monday’s press conference when offensive coordinator Dan Enos was at the podium.

In around 2 minutes, Enos said “run the football” eight times. He may have said it more than that. I could have missed it once or twice while making mental notes.

To some Razorback fans that might be gag-inducing information, but to me, it’s music to my ears. I’ll take ground and pound over the run and shoot any day of the week.

It’s no secret the Razorbacks have lost their last four games against Power 5 opponents, dating back to last season. The key to rectifying that situation is exactly what Enos spoke about on Monday.

He said the Razorbacks are dedicated to running the football, and if their dedication breeds success then the season that too many Hog fans have already written off isn’t over. It’s just getting started.

For a team like Arkansas, a successful running game can be a cure for what ails them on both sides of the football.

A dedication to running the football fits squarely into Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema’s philosophy of ball-control football. In fact, it’s the cornerstone.

Running the football sets up the Hogs’ screen and play-action passing games. The more effective the Hogs are at running the ball, the better the passing game will come together.

Arkansas senior running back David Williams /

Just as important, though, is the help a ball-control rushing attack gives to the Razorbacks’ defense. While overall, it appears Arkansas is playing better defense this season than last, there are still holes in the starting 11 and definitely in the depth department.

The most consistent characteristic of Arkansas’ defense the last two seasons is getting worn down early and giving up easy scores late.

A solid running game won’t mend those holes, but it should give the defense more rest so that it can be effective for longer periods of time.

Last season the Razorbacks had difficulty running the ball in short-yardage situations. That was never more apparent than in the loss to Texas A&M when an Aggie goal-line stand reversed the course of momentum and turned the game totally around.

From that point on, the Hogs began to change their identity. They became a passing team. It became too easy to dial up a passing play, rather than stick to their running roots.

Third-down and 3 or 4 automatically became passing downs. That was not the Razorbacks’ intent going into the season, but it’s how things worked out. A team has to move the ball some way, and the Razorback were more efficient throwing than running, up to a point.

With an iffy rushing attack, the Razorbacks have had trouble extending and protecting leads. It happened in that A&M last year, but it was never more evident than against Missouri in last year’s season finale and against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl when the Hogs’ blew double-digit first-half leads.

In this season’s 28-7 loss to now No. 8 TCU, the Horned Frogs overpopulated the line of scrimmage and shut down the Hogs’ running game, and the with inexperienced receivers and leaky protection, Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen had one of the worst games of his career.

An open date and two games later, the Razorbacks (2-2) think they have improved both at running the football and passing, but they know the key into pulling off a victory in the hostile environs of WIlliams-Brice Stadium against Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks (3-2) is running the football.

Arkansas freshman running back Chase Hayden /

Arkansas running back David Williams, a graduate transfer from South Carolina, knows the stadium well. As part of the Hogs’ three-pronged rushing attack that also includes sophomore Devwah Whaley and freshman Chase Hayden, Williams must keep his emotions in check and concentrate on his assignments. Between those three backs and a few runs by the receivers, the Hogs will seek to crack open the Gamecocks’ defense.

Expect South Carolina to take its cues from the TCU game and stack the line of scrimmage and attempt to pressure Allen into mistakes.

Enos said that the Gamecocks don’t sell out with their blitzes, but that they are very effective at brining pressure when they want to, and have the ability to bring from all three levels of their defense.

If the Razorbacks are to be successful running the ball against South Carolina, they are going to have to be patient. While a balanced attack is necessary, Enos will have to call running plays even when it would seemingly make more sense to pass.

The Hogs will have the opportunity to be more patient because South Carolina’s offense isn’t a high-powered scoring machine. The Gamecocks have suffered a spate of injuries that has limited their offensive production. South Carolina is 13th in the SEC in scoring with 22.6 ppg. Arkansas is ranked third in the league, scoring 35.2. ppg. behind Alabaman (46.2 ppg.) and Texas A&M (37.4 ppg.)

However, the Gamecocks are allowing just 20.8 ppg., while the Hogs are giving up nearly a touchdown more at 27.2 ppg. There’s a reason why the game is expected to be so close. The gamblers have the Hogs as a 2.5-point favorite.

The key will be if the Razorbacks can run the ball well enough to keep some of the pressure off Allen. If the Razorbacks can do that, I think they win the ballgame. At this point, my confidence level of that happening is about a five on a 10-point scale.

Pick: Arkansas 31, South Carolina 30