I said since before this season began that I thought South Carolina would beat the Vols. And now that the season has gotten underway, I see no reason to change that prediction.
The Vols’ offense has looked inept over the last two games, and it did for three quarters against Florida as well. A change at quarterback could provide the spark the offense needs, but it won’t matter if the offensive line doesn’t block better or if Tennessee’s receivers can’t run routes correctly or hold on to passes.
South Carolina has talent. Tennessee has more of it. But talent alone doesn’t win games. If that were the case, Tennessee would’ve won the SEC East last year and would be 4-1 this season.
Tennessee can win this game. In fact, no outcome of this game would surprise me. The Vols could blow out South Carolina or win a close one. Conversely, the Gamecocks could win a nail biter or rout the Vols. None of those outcomes would shock me.
Unless Jarrett Guarantano can come in and be a difference-maker on offense, the Gamecocks have enough talent and coaching to win this game. And I’m thinking they will.
Pick: South Carolina 28-24
MVP: Jake Bentley, QB
Jake Bentley is very dangerous, and he’s just a sophomore. He had his coming out party last year against Tennessee as a true freshman in his second career start, and the Vols’ secondary appears ripe for the picking once again. The Vols’ passing defense is technically the top passing defense in the SEC, but that’s only because they haven’t been passed on very much this year. Expect that to change in this game.
I think the Vols simply have enough talent to get it done against the Gamecocks. Jarrett Guarantano is the difference in this game. I see him making a few mistakes, but his ability to throw the ball deep will open up room for John Kelly to have another big day.
Pick: Tennessee 23-17
MVP: John Kelly, RB
Kelly will finally get more help. And that’s the difference between a good game and a great game for him. This is the first time a defense will have to respect the quarterback run, and it’ll open up more lanes for Kelly. Butch Jones will keep things simple for his young quarterback, which means Kelly will have a lot of chances to catch the ball as well.
I’m picking South Carolina not because I believe the Gamecocks are a good football team, but because of Tennessee’s struggles to this point in the season.
South Carolina’s passing offense ranks third in the SEC, as starting quarterback Jake Bentley is throwing 242.7 yards-per-game. Bentley is having an outstanding sophomore season. Through six games, Bentley has thrown for 1,456 yards and 12 touchdowns on 114-of-188 passing.
On the flip side, Tennessee is first in the SEC in passing defense, only allowing 129.2 passing yards-per-game. However, this number is skewed in the sense that the Vols haven’t played a true passing team this year. Bentley presents the first true passing threat of the season, and the Vols will have their work cut out for them.
While I may be picking South Carolina to win, Tennessee is very capable of winning this football game. This team has the talent to play with anybody in the country, but they need to put it all together and play their first complete game of the season in order to pick up their first SEC win of the season.
Pick: South Carolina 21-20
MVP: Jake Bentley, QB
As I said, Bentley is having an incredible season. Last season against Tennessee, Bentley was 15-of-20 for 167 yards and two touchdowns in his first career SEC start. Bentley will be the best quarterback the Vols have faced this season so far. With Tennessee’s secondary struggling at times this season, Bentley could have a big game. The Vols defensive backs will need to come ready to play.