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Know Your Opponent: Quick-Scouting South Carolina

Here’s a quick look at what Tennessee can expect from South Carolina this weekend. Offensively, the Gamecocks are balanced but probably not as explosive as they have been in recent years at the receiver position. Mike Davis is an upper-level SEC running back, but isn’t quite on the level of guys like Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon or Jonathan Williams. Quarterback Dylan Thompson has thrown for a bunch of yards this season, but over a third of those yards came in two losses against Texas A&M and Auburn when the Gamecocks were forced to pass to try and stay in the game.

Here are some notes from Carolina’s 45-38 loss to Kentucky in early October:

5:36: Carolina starts this game by calling one of their favorite run plays. It’s a designed run to the left with a cutback option for Mike Davis is the defensive line collapses too quickly. Kentucky crashes in here and Davis cuts it back and to the outside for a huge gain on the first play of the game. Tennessee has played very disciplined football along the defensive line all season, but South Carolina will run plays like this to make sure they stay honest.

6:03: Same play to the opposite side. Similar result.

8:51: A very similar play as he first two we mentioned, but Thompson keeps the ball on this play and powers ahead for the first down. This is what makes defending this type of offense so difficult; Kentucky finally contains Davis on the run, but he doesn’t have the ball and South Carolina is able to move the chains on the opening drive.

10:10: Carolina finally attempts a downfield pass to a receiver on this play and catches Kentucky with eight men in the box. Dylan Thompson recognizes the corner blitz from the left side of the field and hits his receiver at the sticks for another first down. Carolina’s ability to run the football well on this drive sets up this play by forcing Kentucky to leave Nick Jones in single coverage in an attempt to stop the run.

20:44: This play by Kentucky is very similar to a play that Tennessee runs. The Vols have tried to run receiver screens all season with limited success, but against a team like South Carolina who has struggled to get off blocks in the secondary the Vols could be able to make some really big plays off very simple throws and catches.

25:02: This would come in handy on Saturday.

30:52: Carolina goes with a new wrinkle here and goes with a quick option to the short side of the field that completely catches Kentucky off guard. Until this point, Carolina had handed off to Davis as he cut in front of the quarterback. Here, they sprint him to the left at the snap and Thompson reads the defensive end before pitching to Davis. The play is very well blocked and Mike Davis shows his speed as he takes off up the sidelines for a 42-yard gain.

33:06: Pharoh Cooper turns what should have been a two yard gain into a first down thanks to phenomenal effort. Cooper is currently South Carolina’s leading receiver with 40 catches for 553 yards and six touchdowns and has really been the go-to guy in critical situations for the Gamecock offense all season. He also has 12 carries for 106 yads on the ground as well, so they will try to get him the ball in a variety of ways. He’s no Amari Cooper, but he is still a challenging cover for Tennessee.

33:56: Mike Davis’ backup is this guy, Brandon Wilds. He’s 6’2, 222 and runs really hard when given the chance. You can see how difficult he is to bring to the ground on this play, as he breaks four tackles on his way to a 12-yard gain when Kentucky was in perfect defensive position.

-It has been clear to this point in the game that the mobile quarterback (Patrick Towles) for Kentucky is forcing South Carolina’s defense to delay their pursuit of the running backs just long enough to give the backs the ability to find a hole to run through. This is the element that Josh Dobbs will add to the Vols’ offense if he is indeed the starter this weekend in Columbia. We saw Alabama’s defense struggle to contain Dobbs, it is fair to assume that Carolina will also have some challenges this weekend as well.

51:32: South Carolina really struggled to stop Kentucky on this drive when they went to the wildcat package. I would fully expect Tennessee to roll out some more of the Thundering Hurd this weekend unless they are trailing by a large margin. They ran it somewhat successfully against Alabama and would have went to it more if not for the 27-0 lead the Tide jumped out to.

54:29: This is the first of three consecutive plays in which Kentucky’s defensive ends are able to provide significant pressure to Dylan Thompson. If Tennessee can limit the big plays by Carolina in the run game, then they should be able to force them into some obvious passing situations that will allow players like Chris Weatherd, Corey Vereen and Derek Barnett to absolutely wreak havoc in the backfield. I expect Tennessee to have a very strong day rushing the passer on Saturday based on how Carolina’s tackles look here.

59:29: Kentucky goes with a bit of an uptempo offense right here and completely confuses Carolina’s defense. They have no idea what the call is and their substitutions are late getting onto the field. Here, the ref stands over the ball and allows South Carolina to get set, but if the refs are a little more lax this weekend then the Vols may be able to catch them unprepared for the fast-paced attack.

1:07:11 Another huge play by Kentucky out of the wildcat formation. Here, they run Towles out to the side (exactly like Tennessee did with Dobbs against Alabama) and burn the Gamecocks up the middle for a long touchdown.

1:19:20: This is the bad side of Dylan Thompson. He has good protection in the pocket but panics and misses a wide open receiver over the middle. The one place you can’t throw the football in this situation is over the middle when you are late. The pass sails and Kentucky takes it the other way with an interception

1:53:48: Paroh Cooper with another amazing effort on this play to get the ball into the endzone on this play. Cooper isn’t the biggest receiver Tennessee has faced this year, but he may play with more effort than anyone. Tennessee will have to tackle Cooper well on Saturday or risk him breaking tackles and turning short gains into big ones.

2:03:35: Another option call by Spurrier that shows Dylan Thompson isn’t afraid to keep the ball if the defense takes the pitch-man. Nice play by Thompson, but running this play to Derek Barnett or Corey Vereen’s side with A.J. Johnson in hot pursuit would be a very bad idea for South Carolina this weekend.

2:04:19: Kentucky has nine players in the box to stop the run and Mike Davis is able to bust it out the other side for a touchdown that should have won South Carolina the game. Tennessee won’t need to put as many players this close to the line of scrimmage this weekend, but they will need to make sure they tackle well or Davis and Wilds can make them pay. This is just a nice run by Davis to recognize the open gap and hit it at full speed.

-At this point there is 11:46 left in the game and South Carolina has a 14-point lead. They proceed to give up 21 unanswered points in what may go down as one of the worst fourth quarter collapses ever by a Steve Spurrier coached team.

2:07:51: More JoJo Kemp in the wildcat and more chunks of yardage for Kentucky. This entire drive is a clinic of exactly how NOT to defend the wildcat formation by South Carolina’s defense.

2:19:46: Kentucky is clearly going to run the football here –  as they have all drive long – yet South Carolina has five defenders at least seven yards away from the line of scrimmage. It is very clear that they had not prepared for this formation at all in the preseason.

2:26:46: Game over.

-South Carolina’s run defense was absolutely exposed in this game. They had no clue how to handle the wildcat formation and Kentucky was smart to continue using it. Tennessee has actually had success using a very similar formation with Jalen Hurd and I would fully expect Tennessee to try to utilize it this weekend in Columbia. Based on what I have seen here, I think Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd can have a very big day running the football early, which should set up Dobbs with some one-on-one match ups with Josh Malone and Marquez North on the outside. Kentucky also showed that Carolina’s pass defense is beatable. Towles went 20-of-29 in this game for 208 yards and a touchdown in a game that saw Kentucky rush for 239 yards and four touchdowns.

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