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Hogs winning at Vandy, losing at life

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The Hogs may have beaten Vandy on the field, but in the classroom there's no competition. In a report issued the same day that Jeff Long announced the Athletic Department's intentions for a huge facilities expansion, the NCAA ranked Arkansas second-to-last in the conference in Graduation Success Rate. Arkansas' GSR (55 percent) trails Vandy by 34 percentage points. That's the scholastic equivalent of about a bazillion touchdowns.

An astute Arkansas Blog reader pointed out last week that the student population at the University of Arkansas graduates at a 57 percent clip. That's a startling but irrelevant number. This duty can't be generalized away. We don't forgive individual debtors because of a bad economy. We can't forgive individual departments because of institutional failure.

I'm less inclined than most to view playing sports at a D-1 school as some sort of privilege. Athletes are promised a lot of things in exchange for services worth several millions of dollars to the institution in question. They're promised playing time, access to state-of-the-art equipment, and a chance to weigh their talents against elite competition. But most importantly, they are promised an education. By sacrificing their bodies and their time, they earn every bit of the focused attention and extra assistance required to succeed in the classroom.

So I felt a little churlish heading into last weekend, and I may have taken it out a bit on the team. Black humor dominated my Twitter feed and my comments at ArkansasExpats.com. Poor performances of any kind, combined with back-to-back gimmees, will do that to a fan.

What a bounce-back for Mallett, though. If he runs out of new records to set, he just goes back to set records for the second time. And his 409 passing yards were racked up despite a hobbled receiving corp. Losing Childs hurts, but mostly because he's such a beloved presence on the field. The other receivers are more than capable of picking up the slack, even if a little piece of their heart is wearing street clothes on the sidelines. At this point, folks must be wondering what you have to take away from Bobby Petrino's offense to slow them down.

So far our worst enemy, well, he is us. Jeff Long ought to find a way to incorporate yellow into our school colors if it's gonna be such a mainstay on the field. The Hogs gave away 130 yards in penalties last week, and they continue to lead the conference in brain farts.

We were better on third down, converting 10 of 19. Directly related: We were good on the ground, with a fine, workman-like performance out of Knile Davis. The fact that most of the carries looked so routine belies what has been a crippling need for most of the season. His continued success is vital, but we have more than personnel to thank for the uptick. Petrino and his staff have come up with a fine new look for the rushing game, and the mid-season makeover is no small feat.

Just because a loss to Arkansas wouldn't have any bearing on South Carolina's SEC-East race doesn't mean the Head Ball Coach won't try to beat us. The Gamecocks represent the best and, counter-intuitively, the most beatable team left on the schedule.

Jerico Nelson and Rudell Crim got some practice catching the ball last week, and that should come in handy against Stephen Garcia. He may have one of the highest passer ratings in the conference, but he still likes to cough up the ball in all kinds of ways. Whether he's throwing into coverage or putting it on the ground, Garcia finds a way to get Steve Spurrier's headset and/or visor off.

Still, Marcus Lattimore could put on a show behind a grizzled offensive line stocked with upperclassmen. And Alshon Jeffrey is another in the SEC's impossibly fierce stable of wide-outs. The defense will need to arrive at the stadium well before the coin-toss this week.

Mallett and company should feast. Ellis Johnson's squad has been a major disappointment, and the loss of cornerback Chris Culliver weakens a secondary that's already given up 79 plays of 10 plus yards. S.C.'s defense is considerably stiffer, statistically the best in the conference thanks to a row of pro-grade talent along the line. Our ability to make things happen on the ground will be a factor in the second half.

I don't love our chances on the road, but the difference might be special teams. Arkansas has been uneven, but the Gamecocks have been horrible. If Joe Adams is back to return punts, we all might better duck and cover. There's gonna be some explosions.

Follow Derek Jenkins throughout the week and during games on Twitter @aboynamedsooie.

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