Tennessee and South Carolina will square-off on Saturday afternoon for what’s become one of the most competitive annual match-ups in the SEC over the last decade-plus.
The Vols (2-5, 1-3 SEC) and Gamecocks (3-4, 2-3 SEC) are both in “must-win” mode this Saturday if they want to make it to a bowl game in 2019. Both teams have faced a tough SEC schedule up to this point, and both have earned upset victories — though South Carolina’s is more high profile than Tennessee’s.
Two weeks ago, South Carolina upended then-No. 3 Georgia 20-17 in double-overtime. Last weekend, the Gamecocks gave No. 9 Florida all they wanted and had a lead in the second half before the Gators (and the officials) turned the game around. South Carolina wound up losing 38-27 in that game.
Similarly, the Vols got a boost two weeks ago with a 20-10 victory over Mississippi State for their first conference win of the season. Then, Tennessee traveled down to Tuscaloosa to take on No. 1 Alabama, and they gave the Tide a fight before ultimately falling 35-13 thanks to questionable officiating and opportune play-making by Alabama.
Now, both teams face-off this Saturday with a lot on the line.
Here’s a “by the numbers” look at this weekend’s Tennessee vs. South Carolina game.
Tennessee’s football team has faced Will Muschamp seven times in his coaching career. All seven times, the Vols have failed to beat him.
Muschamp served as head coach of the Florida Gators from 2011-14, and his Gator squads beat the Vols all four years he was in Gainesville. After a year out of coaching in 2015, Muschamp resurfaced in the SEC at South Carolina. In his first year, his Gamecocks spoiled the Vols’ 2016 season with an upset victory on the road. Since then, Muschamp has coached his team to victory in 2017 and 2018 both, giving him a sterling 7-0 record against Tennessee in his head coaching career.
After dominating South Carolina in the early decades of the SEC and again once the conference split into divisions in 1992, the Gamecocks have turned the tides as of late. Tennessee was 19-2-2 against South Carolina before Steve Spurrier took over as head coach in 2005. Since that moment, the Gamecocks have gone 8-6 against Tennessee, including a 6-3 record over the last nine years. South Carolina won three-straight games against the Vols from 2010-12, then UT beat the Gamecocks three times in a row from 2013-15, and now South Carolina has beaten Tennessee three-straight times once again.
The Tennessee and South Carolina rivalry has been one of the most closely-contested annual series in the SEC over the last decade-plus. Dating back to 2005, 10 of the 14 match-ups between the two teams have been decided by a touchdown or less, including the last seven contests between the two SEC foes. Since 2012, the average margin of victory in this conference match-up has been just 3.3 points. The 2017 game, a 15-9 win for South Carolina, is the only game in the last seven meetings that has been decided by more than three points.
Tennessee comes into Saturday’s game as a slight underdog to the Gamecocks. South Carolina is favored by a little more than a field goal, marking the 14th time in Jeremy Pruitt’s first 19 games as Tennessee’s head coach that the Vols have been an underdog. In the previous 13 games, UT has won just three times, getting upset victories over Auburn and Kentucky last season and winning as a slight underdog against Mississippi State this season.
Coming into Saturday’s game, redshirt senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings has caught 122 passes. He currently sits 10th all-time in Tennessee’s record books for most career receptions, and he could vault up to just outside the top five by the end of Saturday’s contest. Jennings needs just five catches against South Carolina to move past Jayson Swain for sixth all-time in career receptions. Swain hauled in 126 catches for 1,721 yards and 10 touchdowns in his four years at Tennessee. Jennings has a similar career stat line, totaling 122 receptions for 1,662 yards and 15 scores. On the season, Jennings is averaging five catches per game and has 35 receptions for 478 yards and five scores. All of those stats lead the team.
South Carolina has had a bad habit of giving up big plays this season. Not only have the Gamecocks allowed 108 plays of 10 or more yards to opponents this year, but they’ve given up the third-most plays of 20 or more yards in the SEC. On the year, opponents have totaled 20 or more yards on a play 37 different times against South Carolina. Only Mississippi State (40) and Vanderbilt (45) have given up more. When Tennessee played Mississippi State earlier this month, the Vols totaled five plays of 20 or more yards against the Bulldogs, accounting for 8.6 percent of their total offensive plays.
In the SEC, Tennessee hasn’t done a good job of winning the turnover battle. The Vols have played four SEC games, and they’ve only managed a positive turnover margin once, finishing with a plus-one advantage against Mississippi State. But against Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, Tennessee gave the ball away more often than they created turnovers. All in all, the Vols have a minus-three turnover margin in SEC games this season. South Carolina, meanwhile, has a plus-two turnover margin in conference play.
South Carolina kicker Parker White has been automatic against the Vols in his collegiate career, and several of his kicks have resulted in wins of the Gamecocks. White is a perfect 5-for-5 on field goal tries against Tennessee heading into Saturday’s game. Three of those five made field goals have come in the fourth quarter, and one of the three ended up being the game-winning score (last season), and he hit two field goals in the fourth quarter in the 2017 match-up that were the go-ahead/game-winning kicks in that game.
On the flip side, Tennessee kicker Brent Cimaglia is 4-of-4 on his field goal tries against South Carolina in his career. He made all three kicks in Tennessee’s 2017 loss to the Gamecocks, and he connected on his one and only field goal try against South Carolina last season.