Tennessee (4-4) vs. South Carolina (3-5)
Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET
Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, Tennessee
TV: SEC Network
Line: Tennessee by 17
Series Record: Tennessee leads 24-7-2
Setting the table
The Vols are coming off an absolute drubbing of Kentucky and they are certainly playing their best football of the season. A win over the Gamecocks would get the Vols over .500 for the first time since September 19th and keep the momentum in Tennessee’s favor headed down the stretch. South Carolina has been through a ton this year, including starting three quarterbacks and the sudden resignation of Steve Spurrier, but they appear to have some new life under interim head coach Shawn Elliott. They lost 35-28 at Texas A&M last week but put up 445 total yards and clearly looked like a dangerous football team.
Who has the edge
When Tennessee throws…
Statistically this is a wash – the Vols rank 8th in the conference in passing offense and South Carolina ranks, you guessed it, 8th in passing defense. The Vols have faced some quality defenses this season and the passing game, though still inconsistent, has rounded into form the last few weeks. Joshua Dobbs’ numbers against Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky tell the story – 54-90 (60%), 716 yards, 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Edge: Tennessee
When Tennessee runs…
The Volunteers rank second in the SEC in rushing (214.13) behind only the fighting Fournette’s at LSU. Shawn Elliott’s team ranks dead last in the league in rushing defense. They allowed Texas A&M to rush for an impressive 321 yards just last weekend. Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara put a ton of pressure on opposing defenses and South Carolina has been the opposite of good against the run. The men in orange should shred South Carolina’s hapless rushing defense, just like last year. Edge: Tennessee
When South Carolina throws…
Another statistical wash. South Carolina ranks 12th in the SEC in passing offense – right where the Vols rank in passing defense. The Gamecock passing attack has been erratic thanks, in large part, to starting three different quarterbacks. Tennessee’s passing defense has been an enigma this season. They go long stretches of time without giving up a completion only to surrender a big play. Big plays haven’t come easy for the Gamecocks, but Pharoh Cooper is one of the SEC’s best athletes and Tennessee’s secondary will be tested. The Vols have been more effective with Justin Martin in the starting lineup, so we’ll show some faith this week. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee
When South Carolina runs…
Tennessee hasn’t been great against the run but they faced some very good rushing offenses early in the season. The Gamecocks have been good on the ground – ranking 6th in the conference in rushing yards per game and 4th in yards per carry (4.81). Vol fans know firsthand what Brandon Wilds can do. He carried the ball 8 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns last season against Tennessee. Wilds is coming off a 125 yard performance against the Aggies and Jancek’s squad will have to take good angles and swarm to the ball or he will have a big day. Edge: Slightly to South Carolina
On special teams…
Aaron Medley got back on track last week with a 44-yard field goal and that’s definitely good news for the Vols. Evan Berry is still the best return man in the nation and he showed it last week with a return from 100+ yards. Cam Sutton and Kamara are home run threats at punter returner. Trevor Daniel is one of football’s best punters. Tennessee’s coverage units are solid. No matter who the Vols play, they will have a special teams advantage, but the Gamecocks do some good things. South Carolina has been adept at kicking it through the endzone this year which could help neutralize Evan Berry. Their coverage units rank near the top of the league as well. Shon Carson ranks 4th in the SEC in kickoff returns so Tennessee shouldn’t sleep on his big play ability. Still, the Vols have a decisive edge here. Edge: Tennessee
What South Carolina is thinking
We’re playing our best football of the season. Our offense got rolling last week against a quality opponent and we have the talent to gash Tennessee for some big plays. We should be able to neutralize some of Tennessee’s big play ability in the return game and could even make a few plays for ourselves. We’ll have to rely on our offense to keep our defense off the field but, if we can do that, we’ll have a shot at the big upset.
What Tennessee is thinking
We beat this team the last two seasons and we’re certainly not losing to them this year. We’re better than our record and playing the best football of the Jones Era. South Carolina is dangerous, but if we stay focused and play our game, they can’t beat us.
What RTI is thinking
The Vols proved last week they’re ready for the stretch run with an dismantling of a decent Kentucky team. They have four games remaining against teams they should handle and, barring a catastrophic meltdown, they should handle the Gamecocks this weekend.