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Opponent Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

Photo via Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 4-2 (2-2)
Conference: SEC
Head Coach: Will Muschamp, 2nd season (10-9 overall)
Team Nickname: Gamecocks
Location: Columbia, South Carolina

Leading Passer: Jake Bentley — 114-of-188, 1,459 yards, 12 TD, 4 INT
Leading Rusher: Ty’Son Williams — 49 carries, 281 yards, TD
Leading Receiver: Bryan Edwards — 27 catches, 357 yards,  TD

Very few of South Carolina’s stats jump off the page when you look at them. Jake Bentley is having a great start to his sophomore season and has helped the Gamecocks earn the third-best passing attack in the SEC. And the Gamecocks have a solid run defense and know how to be advantageous on defense.

But just about every other one of their metrics is either in the middle of the conference or closer to the bottom. Yet South Carolina is 4-2 overall, and their two losses have come by a combined 17 points.

The Gamecocks are a very beatable team. But the Vols will need to take care of the ball much better than they have so far if they want to come away with a win in this one.

South Carolina has one of the best turnover margins in the SEC. The Gamecocks are plus-seven in the turnover margin this season, and that’s the third-best in the conference thus far. South Carolina is tied with three other teams with the most turnovers forced in the SEC with 13. Last week, the Gamecocks scored three defensive touchdowns en route to a 48-22 victory over Arkansas.

Tennessee, meanwhile, has one of the worst turnover margins in the conference. The Vols are minus-four on the season in turnovers, and their 10 total turnovers on the year are tied for the second-most in the SEC.

South Carolina’s run defense is in the top half of the SEC, but their passing defense, on the surface, is actually one of the worst in the conference. The Gamecocks are giving up the fourth-most passing yards per game this season, allowing 248.8 yards per game. But despite the total amount of yards being high, the actual damage that opposing passers have done to the Gamecocks has been mitigated.

The Gamecocks have only given up six passing touchdowns while they’ve intercepted six passes on the season. Opposing quarterbacks have only a 123.4 quarterback rating against South Carolina, which places them sixth in the conference in that category.

The Vols, meanwhile, have the second-worst quarterback rating in the SEC and the 10th-ranked passing attack in terms of yards per game. A change at quarterback might help Tennessee, however.

While South Carolina has a potent passing attack, their run game has been inconsistent this season. Ty’Son Williams has found success over the last few weeks and has been fighting Rico Dowdle for snaps. Both are essentially splitting snaps at running back now, but Dowdle has struggled to find success consistently this season.

South Carolina’s biggest weapon, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, has been injured since the Gamecocks’ match-up with Kentucky in Week 3. In those three games, Samuel had already totaled 250 receiving yards on 15 catches and had 30 rushing yards on two carries. He also had four total touchdowns.

Without Samuel, the Gamecocks’ offense hasn’t been as electric as it was at the start of the year. But Bryan Edwards has stepped up and become Bentley’s top target, and tight end Hayden Hurst will arguably be the best tight end the Vols face all season.

There are several things to like about South Carolina, but they also have some obvious weaknesses. Tennessee needs to keep their turnovers to a minimum, and the passing game needs to find a way to take pressure off the running game.

The Gamecocks are a good team. But they aren’t the same caliber as Georgia, the Vols’ previous opponent.

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