Spencer Rattler had been largely ineffective in his first season at South Carolina when he completed 30-of-37 passes for 438 yards and six touchdowns last season against Tennessee.
The Oklahoma transfer extended plays with his legs, made the easy throws and made more challenging throws down the field in South Carolina’s 63-38 upset win over Tennessee last November.
But the lackluster play beforehand made it easy to speculate that Rattler’s big day was more about Tennessee’s defensive incompetence than his own prowess.
“He was dynamic in that football game but he has that in his arsenal,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said of Rattler’s improvisation against the Vols a year ago.
But, as Heupel noted Monday, Rattler is a good quarterback. One of the best in the SEC, in fact. While Tennessee’s defensive issues contributed to his video game like stats, the 6-foot-1 signal caller has proven he is a strong quarterback since.
In fact, South Carolina’s upset win over Tennessee is nothing short of a major turning point in Rattler’s career. Rattler threw for over 240 yards just once in 10 games before facing Tennessee last season.
But Rattler has thrown for 240 yards in all six games since facing Tennessee. That includes three 300-plus yard performances including against Clemson and North Carolina.
“He’s a really good player,” Heupel said. “He’s played at a high level. He’s played a lot of football. He’s playing extremely well right now.”
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Rattler is completing 74% of his passes this season for 1,242 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. Both interceptions came in the second half against Georgia in desperation spots. Rattler has done a strong job of taking care of the football while being efficient taking chances down the field.
South Carolina’s senior quarterback’s 85.7 PFF grade ranks fourth amongst SEC quarterbacks but is even more impressive given the Gamecocks’ difficult strength of schedule to date.
The Gamecocks’ biggest offensive deficiency this season has been their ability to protect Rattler. North Carolina sacked Rattler nine times in the season opener but the veteran’s elusiveness has been critical in the Gamecocks’ offense.
“He’s got the ability to extend and make plays with his feet,” Heupel said. “He’s accurate with the football. You’ve got to do a great job. You’ve got to control the line of scrimmage. You’ve got to apply pressure to him. You can’t let him out of the pocket, at the same time. When he does scramble, you’ve got to match the personnel out in space. He created a bunch of big plays against us last year outside of the pocket.”
Tennessee’s pass rush has been effective against every opponent this season besides Florida. But Gators’ quarterback Graham Mertz made multiple plays escaping the pocket and throwing on the run on third down against the Vols. Those issues will make containing Rattler particularly important Saturday.
Kickoff between South Carolina and Tennessee is at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday night. Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic are on the call for the SEC Network.