FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Knowing that Arkansas had two injured starters missing from its secondary, South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer made up his mind to go after that perceived weakness.

Both safety Jalen Catalon, who Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman acknowledged Saturday suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last week, and nickel back Myles Slusher – who should return next Saturday – were missing due to injury.

That strategy worked in part as Oklahoma quarterback  transfer Spencer Rattler threw for 370 yards, but the visitors only rushed for 40 as the Razorbacks handled the Gamecocks 44-30 in the SEC opener for both teams.

“Yeah we felt really good about our ability to throw the football, there’s no question about it,” Beamer said.  “Not that we didn’t with the run game, but they had two starters out in the secondary, Catalon and Slusher, big losses for them. Watching Cincinnati last week, Cincinnati had some opportunities in the passing game that they weren’t able to capitalize on, as well, so we felt like we could certainly take our shots down field, which is what we did. 

“But we’ve got to run the football, there’s no doubt about it, but each week is different with  how we’re trying to win football games, and today was like our matchups in the passing game for sure.

“A lot of guys showed what they can do when the ball is in their hands. But there’s no question that we’ve got to be able to run the ball and stop the run to win football games.”

Beamer knew that would be Arkansas game plan and the Razorbacks  rushed for 295 yards and passed for 162 with quarterback KJ Jefferson going 18 of 21 with a touchdown through the air and rushing for 67 more and another score.

“Especially with a team like Arkansas, when they line up offensively, they’re trying to bludgeon you to death,” Beamer said. “With tackling their guys as well, we’ve got to be able to help our defense, also.”

Arkansas (2-0, 1-0) compiled 457 yards of total offense and caused two turnovers, including Dwight McGlothern’s interception of Rattler in the end zone.

“First of all, give credit to Arkansas, heck of a football team and they showed that today,” Beamer said. “Proud of our football team and the way that we fought, battled throughout the game, obviously we can’t turn the ball over, especially in the fourth quarter. Whatever it was, I guess we had an interception, a fumble, safety, so at least two turnovers in the fourth quarter, and you can’t win football games on the road in the SEC, that’s for sure.”

South Carolina’s schedule gets no easier as it faces defending national champion Georgia next Saturday.

“I think we have a chance to be a really, really good football team, and we’ll continue to get better, today wasn’t good enough on the road, but I’m proud of our guys and the way they fought,” Beamer said.

“We were talking all week that we were going to face adversity at some point and that’s how we get stronger as a football team, and I thought we showed that in a lot ways today. “

South Carolina played without two defensive starters due to injury and had five more injured on Saturday.

“We certainly faced a ton of adversity out there with some things that happened throughout the game, injuries, particularly defensively, but we have a lot of guys that got to play a lot of plays,” Beamer said. 

“Overall not good enough today, (but) I’m excited as we continue to go through the season, and again, proud of the group of men that we have in that locker room.”

Rattler, who was sacked six times, overthrew two receivers deep and also had another bomb batted away by Arkansas’ Jayden Johnson.

He did hit on a 62-yard pass to Antwane Wells (8 catches, 185 yards) that cut the Razorbacks’ lead to 21-16.

“The first one to AB it was a contested play, dude made a great play on it,” Rattler said.  “The next two they were playing three safe and I was really just making sure I could get it over them. They were really close, and you just got to keep throwing those shots. We started to get a rhythm there and make some big plays in the game.”

South Carolina got the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead, but Latavious Brini forced a fumble from Marshawn Lloyd that Hudson Clark recovered.

“We’re nowhere near the ceiling,” Lloyd said. “There were plays we could’ve made, should’ve made, and we didn’t make. When we start being able to make those plays, we’ll be at the top of the mountain. For all the mess-ups we made today, we still showed we’re an explosive offense. We just have to fix up little things.

“We had the momentum, and we felt good with everything. Then I ended up fumbling the ball, which kind of messed the momentum.”

Jefferson had a short touchdown run and a 23-yard scoring pass to Warren Thompson in the next three minutes to take a 35-16 advantage.

South Carolina cut it to 42-30, but Rattler got a safety that all but sealed the win.

Rattler was 23 of 38 with 361 yards passing for South Carolina (1-1, 0-1), though 173 of those came in the fourth quarter when the Gamecocks were forced to pass.

“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 like we did,” Beamer said. “We’ve got to stop the run and get ourselves off the field as well, but there were certainly a lot of opportunities in all three phases, but I’m proud of the way our guys continued to fight and battle.

“Felt like we were going to win that game until that last drive when we got the safety or whatever they called back there.”

Rattler was asked what his team could do better.

“Just as a group, players, and coaches we just have to prepare better and do better as a whole,” Rattler said. “We have to get ourselves out of second and third and longs, even though we converted a lot of third downs today, way better than last week. 

“Our overall performance was way better than last week, we still got ways to go but we will. That’s a good team, top 20, top 15 team an we just went at it. We’ve got to give them respect and keep going at it.”

Photo by John D. James