2019 Opponent Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

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    (Photo via John Bazemore/Associated Press)

    2019 Record: 3-4 overall (2-3, SEC)

    Head Coach: Will Muschamp (4th year, 25-21 overall)
    Location: Columbia, South Carolina

    Leading Passer: Ryan Hilinski (Fr.) — 120-of-199, 1,198 yards, 7 TD, 3 INT
    Leading Rusher: Tavien Feaster (Sr.) — 82 carries, 492 yards, 4 TD, 6.0 YPC
    Leading Receiver: Bryan Edwards (Sr.) — 40 receptions, 504 yards, 4 TD
    Leading Tackler: Ernest Jones (So.) — 55 tackles (27 solo), 2.5 TFL, INT, 5 PD

    Total Offense Rank: 67th (406.6)
    Passing Offense Rank:
    86th (209.7)
    Rushing Offense Rank: 36th (196.9)
    Scoring Offense Rank: 67th (28.6)

    Total Defense Rank: 69th (396.6)
    Passing Defense Rank: 90th (250.6)
    Rushing Defense Rank: 55th (146.0)
    Scoring Defense Rank: 55th (25.3)

    Here’s a complete preview of Tennessee’s opponent this Saturday, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

    Offense

    South Carolina’s quarterback room has been quite a whirlwind this season. The Gamecocks began the season with high expectations, as Jake Bentley entered his final season as the team’s starter. But following a foot injury in the season opener that cost Bentley his season, highly-touted freshman Ryan Hilinski has taken over the reigns.

    Hilinski is 3-3 as a starter and is completing 60.3 percent of his passes for 1,198 yards. He’s thrown seven touchdowns on the season compared to three interceptions, and his 199.7 passing yards per game is the best among freshmen SEC quarterbacks.

    Against Charleston Southern in Week 2, Hilinski became the sixth freshman in Gamecock history to start at quarterback. He proceeded to complete 24 of his 30 pass attempts for 282 yards and two touchdowns. A week later, he threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors.

    South Carolina’s offensive line has helped ease the true freshman into the job. Consisting of veterans Sadarius Hutcherson at left tackle and center Donell Stanley, the Gamecocks O-line is very athletic despite having three first-year starters. Sophomore Dylan Wonnum was a Freshman All-American last season and starts at right tackle, though he’s missed the last three games due to an ankle injury. Jordan Rhodes, who starts at left guard, and Jovaughn Gwyn, who starts at right guard, have each started six straight games. True freshman Jaylen Nichols made his first career start against Kentucky at right tackle, replacing the injured Wonnum, and has now started three games in a row.

    While South Carolina’s O-line has allowed 16 sacks on the season, they’ve been dominant in the running game, helping the Gamecocks’ backs rush for 196.9 rushing yards per game, which is the fourth-most in the SEC.

    Following a career-high 175 yards on 25 carries against Florida last week, Clemson graduate transfer Tavien Feaster has been the Gamecocks leading-rusher three times this season. For the season, Feaster has rushed for 492 yards on 82 carries. He’s averaging 6.0 yards a carry and has rushed for four touchdowns.

    Feaster pairs with Rico Dowdle in the backfield. Dowdle has rushed for 457 yards and four touchdowns this season, but he will miss Saturday’s game against Tennessee due to a knee injury he suffered on the first play of the game against the Gators.

    Mon Denson will fill in as the No. 2 running back for Carolina. Denson is averaging 7.0 yards a carry this season while totaling 217 yards. With the injury to Dowdle, A.J. Turner has returned to the offensive side of the ball from the secondary. Turner rushed for 1,322 yards over the course of his career before moving to the defensive side of the ball.

    At wide receiver, Bryan Edwards leads the way with 40 receptions, 504 receiving yards, and four touchdowns — all a team-best. Edwards is second on the school’s career reception list with 203. He’s only four catches away from being the No. 1 pass catcher in program history.

    Junior Shi Smith and Sophomore Josh Vann are the only other wide receivers with double-digit catches this season. Smith has caught 25 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown, while Vann has caught 16 passes for 128 yards. Redshirt sophomore OrTre Smith is working back into the rotation following knee surgery.

    Kyle Markway ranks third on the team in receptions with 16 and stands as South Carolina’s starting tight end. His 16 catches have gone for 185 yards and two touchdowns after having just one career reception prior to the season.

    Defense

    Defensively for South Carolina, it all starts with the defensive line. Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt claimed that Muschamp’s D-line was probably the best the Vols would face all season.

    Everything works through Javon Kinlaw, who has played himself into a probable first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. This season, Kinlaw has five sacks, which ranks third in the SEC, three quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries, and a blocked kick. After South Carolina beat then-ranked No. 3 Georgia, Kinlaw was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week. He was also named a mid-season All-American by both the Associated Press and The Athletic.

    D.J. Wonnum has also been the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week, earning the honor following his career-high three sack performance against Kentucky this season. He’s twice been named the D-lineman of the week against Tennessee in the past. This season, Wonnum has a team-high 7.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.

    Kobe Smith and Aaron Sterling flank Kinlaw and Wonnum up front. Sterling has six tackles for a loss on the season to go along with four sacks, while Smith has tallied 18 tackles on the season.

    As for the second level of South Carolina’s defense, sophomore Ernest Jones and senior T.J. Brunson lead the way. Jones leads the team in tackles with 55 stops, which also ranks as the fifth-most in the SEC. As for Brunson, the senior is the heart-and-soul of the Carolina defense. He serves as a team captain and has 256 career tackles to his name.

    South Carolina’s secondary is talented but young. After recording just eight interceptions all of last season, the Gamecocks secondary has already picked off nine passes this season.

    Sophomore cornerback Israel Mukuamu had a career game against Georgia two weeks ago in the Gamecocks’ upset. Mukuamu had a career-high 11 tackles and three interceptions, one of which he returned 53 yards for a touchdown.

    Jaycee Horn is considered South Carolina’s top cover corner. Horn has a team-high seven pass deflections on the season, as well as a team-high two forced fumbles. JT Ibe is the veteran of the group. The sixth-year senior has 23 tackles this season.

    Sophomore R.J. Roderick, along with the freshmen duo of Jammie Robinson and John Dixon, play key roles in the secondary. Roderick starts at both safety and nickel, while both Robinson and Dixon have also started at times this season.

    Special Teams

    South Carolina’s Parker White may be the most clutch kicker in the entire conference. White has made five fourth quarter or overtime game-winning field goals in his career — including last year’s game against Tennessee. Against the Vols, White is a perfect 5-for-5. Three of his five made field goals against the Vols have come in the fourth quarter, including two game-winners.

    On the season, White is 11-of-15, including a long of 49 yards.

    At punter, senior Joseph Charlton is an All-American candidate. Charlton ranks second in the country in punting average at 48.3 yards. This season, 16 of Charlton’s 38 punts have traveled at least 50 yards, and 20 have been downed inside the 20-yard line. His long on the season traveled 65 yards.

    South Carolina lost the school’s record-holder in kickoff return average when Deebo Samuel departed from the program following last season. Shi Smith has taken over and is averaging 22.5 yards per return, which is one of the best averages in the SEC.

    Bryan Edwards handles punt returns. Edwards has returned three punts for an average of 22.0 yards this season.



    Ben McKee
    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He grew up an Army brat and lived in Alabama for a bit, but he bleeds orange. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also a co-host on the RTI Live Show and RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.