COLUMBIA, S.C. — Ever the perfectionist, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier can’t be completely happy, even if his team continues to do things the Gamecocks have ever done before.
No. 12 South Carolina (8-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) beat Arkansas 38-20 on Saturday to win six SEC games for a second straight season. Before Spurrier arrived the Gamecocks had just two winning league seasons since joining the SEC in 1992.
“We’re not an all-powerful team,” Spurrier said, after detailing some passes that weren’t completed and a running game that barely went over 100 yards. “But we’ve got a good record and we have a chance to end up with a good record.”
Spurrier’s ultimate goal — winning the SEC title — won’t happen again this year. But South Carolina has won eight games for a third season in a row, the first time that has happened in 110 years of football. They also finally solved an Arkansas team that has given Spurrier fits. The Razorbacks came in with three straight wins in the series and five victories in the past six games.
But Spurrier couldn’t even relish in that.
“Arkansas as we know has some issues. They don’t know who their coach is going to be next year. That’s hard for the players,” Spurrier said.
The Razorbacks (4-6, 2-4) will now have to beat both Mississippi State and LSU to make a bowl game after starting the season No. 10 in the country.
“We’re going to continue to fight. That’s what we’re going to do these remaining two weeks of the season. We’ll remain together. We’re continue to work hard,” said Arkansas coach John L. Smith, who took over the team in April on a 10-month contract after Bobby Petrino was fired for hiring his mistress to a position in the athletic department.
South Carolina wasn’t flashy, but got just what it needed on offense to win. Connor Shaw threw for two touchdowns and ran for another score, going 15-of-23 for 279 yards.
The Gamecocks scored on their first possession on a 29-yard touchdown throw to freshman tight end Jerell Adams. Arkansas’ defense, ranked 12th in the SEC, forced South Carolina to punt on the next two possessions. But the Razorbacks wouldn’t stop the Gamecocks again until Tevin Mitchell intercepted Shaw in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
Spurrier took one gamble, and it paid off. He went for it on fourth down from the Razorbacks 42 with 1:30 left in the first half. Arkansas blitzed, leaving Bruce Ellington wide open for a touchdown pass that gave South Carolina a 21-10 lead at half.
Early in the third quarter, the Razorbacks held South Carolina to a field goal and appeared to be driving for a touchdown to stay in the game, aided by two straight personal fouls by the Gamecocks.
But D.J. Swearinger ran an interception back 69 yards for a TD that essentially put the game away, with South Carolina up 31-10. Swearinger, who was flagged on consecutive plays for a horse collar tackle and a shot to the head of Arkansas’ Javontee Herndon, threw the ball in the stands — drawing his third straight personal foul.
“It was sort of a stress reliever from both of the penalties,” Swearinger said of the toss.
Swearinger also said he thinks he led with his shoulder and shouldn’t be further penalized for the head shot, though the SEC may review it. The senior free safety was suspended for a game earlier this season for a hit to the head.
“When I go in for a hit, I think the referees will likely throw a flag because of my reputation. But I can’t worry about that,” Swearinger said.
Tyler Wilson threw two interceptions for Arkansas and Dennis Johnson fumbled the ball trying to stretch for a first down at the South Carolina 5 early in the second quarter. South Carolina’s defense only allowed the Razorbacks two touchdowns in five trips inside the 20, with one of the scores coming with just 39 seconds left in the game.
Ellington had five catches for 104 yards, while Kenny Miles ran 14 times for 37 yards and caught three passes for 44 yards. The senior was again called on to be the main running back after Marcus Lattimore was injured.
South Carolina was playing its first game this season without its star junior, who suffered a horrific knee injury against Tennessee that might keep him out until 2014. The team honored Lattimore by putting up a banner marking his career touchdown record and the junior thanked fans with a recorded message played on the video board, promising to work hard to get back on the field. The South Carolina band also honored Lattimore by spelling out “We (heart) 21” at halftime.
Cobi Hamilton caught four passes for 72 yards, giving him Arkansas’ season receiving yards record a 1,149 yards. Wilson was 26-of-41 for 277 yards, while Jonathan Williams ran seven times for 61 yards.
South Carolina ran for 104 yards, which provided the only real suspense at the end of the game. If the Gamecocks gain more than 100 yards on the ground, the fans get a free hamburger. Spurrier ran the ball twice instead of kneeling at the end of the game, and still wasn’t sure if his team hit the magic mark until checking the stat sheet during his postgame news conference.
“Everybody got their free hamburger?” Spurrier asked. “We were worried about that.”