About the only people who expected this season out of Arkansas were the Razorbacks.
Picked for last in the Southeastern Conference before the year began, No. 17 Arkansas is 6-0 and wondering what it has to do to gain the respect of anyone outside the state.
"I think we answered some questions, but I think there are going to be questions every time because we're not one of the top schools the last 10 years," said quarterback Clint Stoerner, who threw three second-half touchdowns in the Razorbacks' 41-28 victory at South Carolina on Saturday.
"There are going to be questions about us from here on out and that's how we like it," Stoerner said.
Arkansas is off to its best start in 10 years when it won a Southwest Conference title and reached the Cotton Bowl. South Carolina (1-6, 0-5 SEC) has lost six consecutive games and nine of 10.
Most figured Arkansas for that kind of season with first-year coach Houston Nutt rebuilding a team that went 4-7 a year ago. But the victory left Nutt the first Arkansas coach to start his career with six consecutive victories.
Even the Razorbacks' success had brought whispers. Four of their games were in Arkansas, the only name team they beat was struggling Alabama, and they hadn't taken a real tough road trip this season.
It looked valid after the Razorbacks fell behind 21-10 at the half. Instead, Stoerner came out firing and hs team followed him back as they outscored the Gamecocks 24-0 in the third period.
| Clint Stoerner lost this fumble, but his three second-half TD passes won the game for Arkansas. (AP) |
Stoerner threw a 51-yard TD pass to Michael Williams four plays after the half that seemed to rattle the Gamecocks. After Zac Painter's interception on South Carolina's next series, Stoerner found Anthony Lucas for a 5-yard scoring pass and Arkansas led 24-21.
"He's a winner, a leader, a guy who really gets us going," Nutt said.
South Carolina quarterbacks Phil Petty and Anthony Wright threw three interceptions and had a fumble after making no turnovers in the first half.
"We knew we had to stop their run. It was hurting us," Painter said. "We wanted to hold them so our offense could have a chance."
Arkansas nose guard Carlus McDougal picked up Wright's fumble on the next series on South Carolina's 27. Four plays later, Chrys Chukwuma scored on a 3-yard run.
Stoerner's last scoring pass, an 11-yard strike to Al Herringer, gave Arkansas a 41-21 lead.
Stoerner finished 10-of-22 for 159 yards. The Razorbacks had six sacks and held South Carolina to 51 yards in the third quarter.
South Carolina, in front of a sparse homecoming crowd that was drawn to the State Fair across the street, had looked like it was ready to break its long losing streak.
Petty, who directed three touchdown drives in South Carolina's 33-28 loss at Kentucky a week ago, steadied the Gamecocks after Madre Hill's 30-yard run gave Arkansas a 10-7 lead.
Petty passed for touchdowns of 10 yards to Trevon Matthews and 11 yards to Zola Davis as the Gamecocks built their halftime lead.
"I really don't have anything I can say to you, give you a feel for it, other than disappointment," South Carolina coach Brad Scott said. "It gets a little harder every week."
The losing streak is the longest since the Gamecocks lost nine in a row in 1991 and 1992.
The last time Arkansas started this well, it won 10 consecutive games, a Southwest Conference championship and a Cotton Bowl trip. It will be harder for the Razorbacks to accomplish that this time as they close the season against Auburn, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU.
"We'll probably be the underdogs in every game from now on," Lucas said. "That's OK with us as long as we can play like this."
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved