Established in the preseason, the prerogative to redo a game prediction is invoked with a clear conscience.
For context, call the catalyst the Morgan/Hatcher Rule. While Arkansas’ Austin Allen was completing 21-of-48 in losses to TCU and Texas A&M, explanations often included references to the absence of Drew Morgan and Keon Hatcher. Usually, the lament involved Allen’s confidence or his communication with the former receivers or both. Sometimes, 2016 stats were noted.
Deebo Samuel was to South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley what Morgan and Hatcher were to Allen.
The preseason prediction of South Carolina 28, Arkansas 24 was predicated mostly on production from Bentley, but he has struggled since Samuel suffered a season-ending injury in the third quarter of a 10-point loss to Kentucky on Sept. 16.
Last year, Samuel caught 59. This year, he had five catches in each of the first three games, including a 68-yarder on the first play vs. Kentucky.
As a starter, Bentley suffered only two interceptions in six regular-season games last year and completed almost 66 percent. This year, he totaled three picks in the Kentucky game and a last-second victory over Louisiana Tech and completed less than 59 percent in Saturday’s 24-17 loss to A&M.
To be fair, Allen is developing trust in Jonathan Nance and Bentley might be headed the same direction with tight end Hayden Hurst who caught six vs. the Aggies.
Increasing the pressure on Bentley, South Carolina has all but abandoned the running game and that, in turn, can wear down a defense.
For example, South Carolina ran for 54 yards vs. Kentucky and barely had the ball 23 minutes. Against the Aggies, seven sacks of Bentley lost 53 yards and left the Gamecocks with a total of 16 yards rushing. As a result, they are averaging 84.2 yards per game rushing, which ranks 122nd of 129 FBS teams.
In College Station, South Carolina running backs carried only 17 times.
All told, such statistics normally point to a loss, but, before envisioning Arkansas’ defense racking up comparable numbers, know that A&M’s run defense is No. 15 in the country.
After checking out Bentley’s stats, examining South Carolina’s running game was next in light of Arkansas inability to stop ball carriers from TCU and A&M. Reviewing the Gamecocks’ inadequacies in the running game, shuffling in the offensive line has been mentioned.
Arkansas, too, continues to experiment up front — Zach Rogers and Jake Raulerson played some at guard in the second half vs. New Mexico State — but the running game comes first in Bret Bielema’s offense and distributing 46 carries between Devwah Whaley, David Williams, and Chase Hayden produced 214 yards on Saturday.
Assuming a win over New Mexico State, the coffee-drinking regulars at the gym had moved on to Arkansas at South Carolina when they cornered their friend in the media last week.
The most critical game of the Razorbacks’ young season, they were told. Two days later, Alabama 66, Ole Miss 3; Auburn 49, Mississippi State 10, and Troy 24, LSU 21 reinforced the assessment.
Arkansas’ final four SEC opponents are a collective 1-6 in the conference so let’s ignore the coaches’ insistence on “one game at a time” and contemplate how the outcome in Columbia, S.C., can affect the psyche of Arkansas’ players, coaches, and fans.
A “W,” even if followed by losses to the SEC West’s elite, would not be the end of the world considering the apparent vulnerability of the Mississippi schools, LSU, and Missouri. On the other hand, a loss on Saturday could initiate a three-game losing streak that would leave the 2-5 Razorbacks teetering on a slippery slope.
By the way, superb defense is a common thread among the SEC’s best. Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn are first, second, and sixth in the country in scoring defense. Points allowed range from 43 to 55 in five games; Arkansas has given up 109 in four games.
Despite that concern, flip the pick — Arkansas 28, South Carolina 24.
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org