Tennessee heads to Columbia looking for its 10th win on the season and the program’s first 10 win season since 2007.
Each week, Rocky Top Insider will take you behind the scenes with a question and answer with a media member who covers Tennessee’s opponent.
This week, Gamecock Scoop’s Alan Cole discussed Shane Beamer’s first 23 games in Columbia, South Carolina’s special teams success and more.
Where do people in Columbia stand on Shane Beamer’s tenure 24 games in?
I think the temperature here is mostly fine. There is some mounting frustration with the offense and some of the assistant coaches on staff, but Beamer still managed to squeeze seven wins out of last season despite starting four different quarterbacks and the program is going back to a bowl game this year. This was a team who went 2-8 in 2020, so going to a bowl game in back-to-back years is still progress and positive momentum.
South Carolina seemingly hit its stride in October but has struggled the last few weeks. What has gone awry for the Gamecocks since the Texas A&M win?
A lot of the problems South Carolina had in its wins were covered up by game-changing plays on defense and special teams. For instance they blocked two punts and returned them for touchdowns against Georgia State, and led Texas A&M 17-0 in the opening minutes thanks to a kickoff return touchdown and two short fields off turnovers. But once those started to try up — particularly the turnovers — the offense has been unable to hold up its end of the bargain. The defense has had its fair share of struggles over the last three weeks as well, but the problems begin and end with the offense especially after its worst performance of the season last week at Florida.
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South Carolina’s offense has not lived up to potential with Spencer Rattler at quarterback. What have been his — and the offense’s as a whole — issues?
Inconsistency. Rattler’s line of eight touchdowns and nine interceptions is a good microcosm of his season. He is capable of making a handful of throws a game where his NFL hype flashes, but overall his decision-making has been too slow in the pocket and he has struggled to push the ball downfield vertically.
The biggest area of weakness for this team has been on the perimeter, with teams exploiting it by running off tackle and throwing a lot of passes to the boundary. Quarterbacks runs have also been a problem, something Mike Wright and Anthony Richardson exposed the last two weeks and Hendon Hooker surely will be looking to do the same with. It is a talented defense — particularly in the secondary with future NFL corner Cam Smith and potential freshman All-American safety Nick Emmanwori — but it is still a very young one who struggles to put a full game together.
What has made South Carolina’s special teams so effective and dangerous?
I think it is just a program-wide emphasis and buy-in on it. Shane Beamer is of course as much of an expert on special teams as anyone on the planet with his background and his dad’s history, and special teams coordinator Pete Lembo is one of the most experienced coaches on the staff. It is something the entire coaching staff spends a lot of time perfecting, and players have talked about how they want to play on special teams because of how it can impact the game. Without a doubt, special teams have been the highlight of this team.
What can South Carolina do to make this game closer than people expect or even pull the upset?
It is going to take at least one or two of those game-changing plays on special teams, but more than anything South Carolina has to avoid getting knocked out of the fight in the first quarter. Whether it was falling behind 21-3 early at Arkansas, 24-0 to Georgia before halftime, 17-0 to Missouri or 24-0 to Florida this past week, this team has been beaten out of the game before halftime in all four of its losses. They have to find at least some way to stem the tide in the first few possessions to keep the crowd in the game as long as possible and maybe create some situations where special teams or turnover luck could matter in the second half.
Tennessee 52, South Carolina 20