Hog fans should arrive early for SEC opener with Gamecocks

New scanning stations evidently taking longer than anticipated
Arkansas tight end Trey Knox (7) outruns Cincinnati defensive back Ja’Quan Sheppard (5) as he scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

The way I see it, Arkansas Razorback fans have two options for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff for the Hogs’ Southeastern Conference opener against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

They can either get to bed early tonight to make sure they are up in time to make it to the game early, or if they are so inclined, they can make it an all-nighter and just roll into the stadium after a night of revelry on Dickson Street and some early-morning tailgating.

Whether Hog fans tuck in early tonight or carry Friday night’s party straight into stadium when the gates open at 9:30 a.m., they need to be prepared to arrive at the Hog House early.

Getting into the stadium last week was a long ordeal. Ticketless entry takes longer than the old method, and Arkansas’ new scanning stations evidently took longer than anyone anticipated, particularly when hosting the one of the top 10 largest crowds to witness a home Razorback game.

Saturday’s game isn’t expected to be quite as well attended as Arkansas’ 31-24 victory over then-No. 23 Cincinnati, but still more than 70,000 folks are anticipated to descend on Razorback Stadium in the morning, and patience will be required of everyone.

Hopefully the UA braintrust will have some improved polices in place for entry into and out of the stadium, and its general vicinity, but honestly more space isn’t something that can be manufactured in week or for that matter a year.

Next up for the No. 16 Razorbacks

Opponent: South Carolina
When:  11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville
Streaming: ESPN

Remaining Schedule

Sept. 17 – Missouri State
Sept. 24 – Texas A&M at Arlington
Oct. 1 – Alabama
Oct. 8 – at Mississippi State
Oct. 15 – at BYU
Oct. 29 – at Auburn
Nov. 5 – Liberty
Nov. 12 – LSU
Nov. 19 – Ole Miss
Nov. 25 – at Missouri

Now, these thoughts aren’t meant to be overly critical of the UA. Some of the issues, frankly can’t be helped. They come with winning at the level Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks did last season with its 9-4 record, the best in a decade. That has fans eager to see the Hogs live and in person.

Attending any event as large as a Razorback football game comes with a certain amount of inconvenience, but still, it should be reasonable.

Defining reasonable is tough. It’s truly a sliding scale. I salute Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek addressing the matter to fans earlier in the week. It shows the concerns expressed by Razorback fans didn’t fall on deaf ears.

I’m guessing actions have been taken to improve the situation to a degree this week, but that early kickoff could create an even greater crush of last-minute fans than last week. If you are in town for the game, I’d recommend getting on campus early and enjoying its beauty and the early fall-like weather that’s expected.

There will be some driving in from downstate that won’t have that luxury. It will be more enjoyable for you and them both if you get in the stadium early.

While not everyone appreciates it, I always enjoy arriving early and watching the teams warm up. It allows me to just get a feel for the players as well as start familiarizing myself with names and numbers of the opponents.

Another thing about getting into the stadium early is that it can be intimidating to the opponent. Pittman has related how the Georgia fanbase was rocking and rolling for the 11 a.m. kick off for their game with the Hogs last season. It was intimidating and the start of a very long day for the Razorbacks as the eventual national champions thumped the Razorbacks, 37-0.

Arkansas fans had a huge effect on last week’s game against Cincinnati twice when the Bearcats entered the red zone. The raucous crowd made Cincinnati’s basic operation collapse in a cascade of penalties that directly affected the outcome of the game. Why not start that intimidation game prior to kickoff?

As for the game itself, Arkansas is an 8.5-point favorite over the Gamecocks, who are coached by Shane Beamer, whom Pittman coached with at Georgia.

The Gamecocks whipped Georgia State, 35-14, last week, but South Carolina’s offense struggled up front protecting quarterback Spencer Rattler, a transfer from Oklahoma, who was the preseason favorite to win the Heisman last year for the Sooners before losing the starting job. Sacked three times, Rattler was under duress most of the night. The pressure led to him throwing two interceptions.

No doubt, corrections will be made, but with Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom calling a more aggressive game than in the past last week, will he pin his Hogs ears back to rush the passer or will he attempt to create tougher windows for him to throw into with the zone package he has relied on the past two seasons?

With all-American safety Jalen Catalon and nickel back Myles Slusher likely out for the game, it may be the latter. Arkansas did leave some receivers running free last week against Cincinnati Rattler may have the moxie and talent to burn the Razorbacks if they blitz too much.

As for Arkansas’ offense, I’m sure Pittman, offensive coordinator Kendall Briles and the rest of the offensive staff were licking their chops when they saw that Georgia State plundered the Gamecocks for 200 yards rushing.

Expect the Hogs to try to pound the Gamecocks into submission with their running game, and then take opportune shots down field to receivers Jadon Haselwood, who was a teammate to Rattler’s at Oklahoma last year; Matt Landers, and Warren Thompson. No doubt tight end Trey Knox will be a part of the plan, too, after his two-touchdown performance last week that earned him honors from the Mackey Award as Tight End of the Week.

Expect Raheim “Rocket” Sanders to start again, but Dominque Johnson, who missed last week recovering from knee surgery early in the year, is expected to play a number of downs. A.J. Green and Rashod Dubinion each had productive plays against Cincinnati. No doubt they figure into the game plan, too. Running back is one of the deepest and most talented positions on the team. Fresh backs mean big runs in the fourth quarter.

Add K.J. Jefferson with his power and speed as an RPO runner and a veteran offensive line for them to run behind, and the Hogs have the makings for their best running game in recent years.

That said, Arkansas had some trouble converting on third down at times against what appeared to be a solid Bearcats’ defense. That has to improve, as does the Hogs punting average, which was only OK in the opener.

Speaking of the kicking game, the Gamecocks scored a majority of their points on special teams last week, blocking two punts that were returned for touchdowns, kicking two field goals, and completing a fake on fourth-down that led to a touchdown. The Razorbacks have to be wary on special teams.

If the Hogs can play a clean game and not turn the ball over, I expect the Razorbacks to cover the 8.5 points, but the most foolish thing any team can do in SEC play is overlook an opponent.