Each Monday night during the football season, the blog will look ahead to South Carolina’s next opponent. This week, it’s Tennessee.
Imagine being Tennessee this weekend.
You get Saturday off, away from the field. You can flip on the TV, watch your next opponent from the comfort of your living room. So you do. You scout South Carolina, eager to sniff out some weakness waiting to be exploited. You see the Gamecocks give up a touchdown to Arkansas on their opening series. You think, “OK, they’re not so tough.”
Then you watch USC score 52 straight points.
The questions and doubts fills your head. How do you beat those guys? How do you stop that?
Tennessee has to figure it out quick this week, with USC visiting for a noon kickoff on ESPN. Good luck. The Vols are going to need plenty of it.
Who: No. 11 South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC East) at Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC East)
Where: Neyland Stadium (102,455) | Knoxville, Tenn.
When: Saturday, noon
Radio: Gamecocks Sports Network (WWIK-FM, 98.9 in Charleston) | Affiliates
Line: South Carolina -7.5 (Opened as South Carolina -7)
What to know about Tennessee: Remember when Tennessee rummaged through coaching candidates in the offseason. Nobody wanted ownership of the Vols. Down the list they went, until finally settling on Butch Jones. He may not have been the top – or preferred – choice. It seems he was the right one. There has been tangible improvement in Tennessee’s first season under Jones. It may not have resulted in any big wins – yet – but there’s a feeling the program is getting closer to that point. The proof? Last time Tennessee played in Neyland Stadium, the Vols took Georgia to overtime before ultimately losing. In years past, the game – and most games against serious opponents – would have been a blowout.
All-time series: South Carolina trails 22-7-2. The “two” were ties in 1942 and 1919. Yes, these teams have been playing each other a long time. On average, the Vols have outscored the Gamecocks 26.1-15.4. Also, here’s a sign of the times. Tennessee was 8-2 against South Carolina last decade. It was 7-1 in the 1990s. After winning three straight, the Gamecocks are 3-0 against the Vols this decade.
When they last met: South Carolina 38, Tennessee 35. Oct. 27, 2012. Ultimately, what will be remembered from last season’s win over Tennessee was the sad ending to running back Marcus Lattimore’s career. But what a game. USC led throughout, jumping out to a 28-14 lead at halftime, but Tennessee came roaring back. The Gamecocks had to force two fumbles in the final eight minutes to preserve their win.
Which Gamecock is crowing loudest: Bruce Ellington. And why not? If past performance is any indication, the junior receiver should have another huge day against Tennessee. Last season, Ellington had six catches for 101 yards and the game’s first touchdown against Tennessee. Last week, he had six catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns at Arkansas. Go ahead. Try to cover USC’s top receiver.
Who’s keeping South Carolina coaches up at night: Tennessee’s offensive line. We’ll talk more about Jadeveon Clowney vs. Tiny Richardson later in the week, but Tennessee is more than its 6-foot-6, 327-pound left tackle. The Vols have arguably the SEC’s top offensive line. Their 211 rushing yards per game ranks seventh in the SEC, which is quite high compared to the rest of their offensive numbers. It helps that senior running back Rajion Neal (102.67) is one of four SEC tailbacks averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game.
Quotable: Steve Spurrier after South Carolina’s win Saturday at Arkansas – ”Our guys played very well. I’m very proud of them. Now, can we play like this – or even close to this – when we go to Knoxville next week? That will be the question.”