Preview: Tennessee vs. South Carolina

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    Tennessee (3-2) vs. South Carolina (4-2)

    Saturday, Oct. 14th, Noon ET

    Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, TN

    TV: ESPN

    Series Record: Tennessee leads 25-8-2

     Setting the table

    Tennessee is in a messy situation right now. Head coach Butch Jones is squarely on the hot seat, and the Vols are coming off a bye week but are still recovering from a 41-0 blowout at the hands of Georgia. South Carolina, meanwhile, just trounced Arkansas 48-22 last weekend. The Gamecocks are riding high while the Vols are as low as they’ve been in several years.

     Who has the edge

    When Tennessee throws…

    The Vols are starting a new quarterback for this game. Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano will be making his first career start in this game, and his limited action this season gives us little to go on. South Carolina’s pass defense hasn’t been the most sturdy, but they do have some solid defensive backs overall. Edge: Push 

    When Tennessee runs…

    South Carolina’s run defense has been fairly solid this season. In terms of yards allowed this year, they rank 5th in the SEC. Tennessee’s John Kelly has been one of the best running backs in the SEC, but so far he’s been the only running back the Vols have used consistently. Guarantano should give the Vols a legitimate running threat at quarterback, and that should relieve some of the pressure off Kelly. On paper, the Vols should have a decided edge here. But Tennessee can’t keep riding Kelly and only Kelly, and unless he has some help, the Gamecocks’ defense will be able to key in on him. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee

    When South Carolina throws…

    Jake Bentley is one of the best quarterbacks the Vols will face all season. He had his coming out party against the Vols last year, and he figures to be ready for another strong performance in this one. South Carolina is missing their best offensive weapon in Deebo Samuel, but they have plenty of other solid pass catchers as well. Edge: South Carolina 

    When South Carolina runs…

    The Gamecocks have had trouble finding consistency in their run game this season, but lately Ty’Son Williams has been effective. Rico Dowdle had a rough start to the year, but he finally found running room last weekend against Arkansas. The Vols’ run defense has made bad rushing attacks look good before, and they’ve been torched by both Georgia Tech and Georgia this season. Edge: South Carolina 

    On special teams…

    No Evan Berry in this game hurts Tennessee once again, but they’ve also not been able to return many kicks in his absence either because of the kickers they’ve faced. South Carolina is in the middle of the pack in the conference when it comes to the percentage of their kickoffs that have gone for touchbacks. The Gamecocks aren’t bad at punting, but they’re very bad at making field goals. Of course Tennessee hasn’t been much better, as the Vols are 11th in the SEC in field goal percentage while South Carolina is 12th. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee 

     Best-case scenario for UT 

    The Vols not only come out and win the game, but they discover their new starting quarterback in the process. If Guarantano comes out and impresses, he has the potential to stabilize Tennessee’s quarterback position and the offense moving forward. The Vols desperately need that, and if they can find it in this game, that would be the best outcome (along with a win).

     Worst-case scenario for UT

    Losing this game would be bad for Tennessee on multiple fronts. But losing this game convincingly would likely be the final nail in Butch Jones’ coffin. And if it isn’t, you have to imagine a loss to Alabama the weekend after that would do it.

     How we think it’ll play out

    These two teams have played down to the wire for the last half decade. Every contest between South Carolina and Tennessee since 2012 has been decided by three or fewer points, and the average margin of victory in the series has been 7.4 points since 2005. Either team is capable of blowing the other out if they come with their “A” game, but it’s more likely this game will be a close one yet again.

    Our picks:

    Nathanael: South Carolina 28-24
    Will: Tennessee 23-17
    Ben: South Carolina 21-20