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RTI Game Predictions: Tennessee vs. South Carolina

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee football is looking to earn its first conference win of the season Saturday night when it hosts South Carolina to Neyland Stadium. The Vols are 12-point favorites over the Gamecocks in a critical game for each team.

Each week, the RTI team will provide game predictions for Tennessee’s weekly opponent.

We move on to the South Carolina Gamecocks.

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Jack Foster

This game feels a lot bigger than I figured it would in the preseason. Considering Tennessee has already dropped an SEC game to Florida, this is a must win.

I like the way Tennessee matches up against SC. They should win at the line of scrimmage, and it could be a long day for Spencer Rattler. I said the same about Mertz and Florida, but the Vols’ defense tends to play much differently in Neyland compared to anywhere else.

Looking at Tennessee’s offense, can they finally put it all together? Can we see a game where they don’t have a quarter-plus lull where they seemingly can’t complete a pass? I can’t confidently say we’ll see the offense play soundly for all 60 minutes, but the first half against UTSA last week was a good sign. Another week staying at home, I like Joe Milton to potentially have his best game of the season.

Additionally, although Tennessee players or coaches would never say it at press conferences, don’t think they won’t have last year’s loss in the back of their mind as fuel.

I’m usually someone who reads into betting lines, and Tennessee being a big favorite tells me a lot. The Vols are the better team, and they’ll show it on Saturday. South Carolina backdoor covers in a game that Tennessee comfortably leads throughout.

Prediction: Tennessee 41, South Carolina 31

Ric Butler

This game feels almost like a first-to-35-points-wins type of game coming up this weekend in Knoxville. I believe that whoever wins this game will do so by reaching the 35-point mark, and I think that Tennessee specifically needs to score in the 30s in order to win this game.

Let’s start with the opposition. Spencer Rattler comes to Knoxville leading a dynamic passing attack for the Gamecocks. While that does put an emphasis on Tennessee’s secondary, I don’t see a likely path to a superhuman performance from Tennessee’s defensive backs on Saturday. What I do see being more likely is a potential superhuman performance from Tennessee’s pass rush – which, in my opinion, will be the key to slowing down S.C.’s passing game. The Gamecocks don’t bring a threatening run offense to the table which makes it extra important to not give S.C. an advantage with Rattler having all the time he needs to read the field and find his target. I have more faith in Tennessee’s pass rush than secondary which is why I put more of the emphasis there.

From the other perspective, though, Tennessee (stop me if you have heard this one before) will really benefit from a hot start on the offensive side of the ball. Tennessee’s strong run game against South Carolina’s suspect run defense could give the Vols an advantage when playing with the lead throughout this game. Still, though, Tennessee will need to be effective from a passing standpoint too. From the quarterback to the offensive line to the wide receivers, the offense needs to be operating efficiently to keep up with what I believe will be a high-scoring S.C. offense.

Lastly, you get to the off-the-field elements. While Tennessee’s players and coaches have been adamant that last year’s game doesn’t hold any weight on this year’s game, I wonder if there will be a different fire from the Vols once they see that specific opponent out on the field. I would bet my life-saving account that the fans will have revenge on their minds. Neyland Stadium, at night, is a tough place to play. The crowd is sure to make an impact with 100,000+ fans eager to make South Carolina’s time on the field as miserable as possible.

It’s tough to pick this game. I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I would like Tennessee to win but South Carolina to cover. My biggest concern with this game is Tennessee not being able to match in a shootout, but I think the Vols have enough talent to overcome. I’m picking Tennessee but there are several different outcomes that wouldn’t surprise me.

Prediction: Tennessee 35, South Carolina 32

Ryan Schumpert

Tennessee hosts South Carolina in what is a critical game for both teams in different ways. Florida dismantled Tennessee in the Vols first true test of the season and the SEC home opener provides Josh Heupel’s team a chance to get back on track before the open date. South Carolina has played a very difficult schedule to date and needs to win in Knoxville for the first time since 2017 to avoid a 2-3 September.

Something that’s struck me this week is how peculiar this matchup is from the national notions about each team. With Josh Heupel, Tennessee is viewed as a heavy passing offense that can score in a flash setting themselves up well to play well from behind. With Shane Beamer, South Carolina is viewed as a more traditional pro-style offense that plays ball control and isn’t built to play from behind. But the inverse is true of the 2023 versions of each team. Joe Milton’s limitations and Tennessee’s strong run game makes them well suited to play from ahead but not from behind. The opposite is true of South Carolina who has run the ball very poorly so far this season but has an explosive passing offense led by Spencer Rattler and Xavier Lagette. That’s a long way of saying that Tennessee needs to start fast in this one for a multitude of reasons.

Earlier this week I wrote about how Tennessee’s strengths matchup up with South Carolina’s weaknesses and vice versa. That sets up a fascinating coaching battle to see who can better hide its deficiencies and exploit the others. Can Tennessee slow down South Carolina’s strong passing game? Can the Vols run the ball effectively to move the football and stay away out of third-and-longs? Those are two huge keys for Tennessee. The Vols ability to rush Rattler is the most important part of this game to me. If the senior quarterback has time to throw he’ll pick apart a vulnerable Tennessee secondary. However, South Carolina’s offensive line has been average at best and woeful at worst through four games this season. Tennessee’s pass rush has shown signs of real growth this season. It needs to show up against the Gamecocks.

I’ve struggled to make a pick all week but I’m rolling with Tennessee in a game much closer than the experts in Las Vegas are expecting.

Prediction: Tennessee 38, South Carolina 34

Matt Reed

Josh Heupel is 14-3 inside of Neyland Stadium. All three of those losses came in 2021, and all came to teams that finished the season ranked inside the Top 15 (Pitt, Ole Miss, and Georgia). He is 21-3 at Tennessee when scoring 30+ points and 0-6 when scoring under 30. In the history of this rivalry, South Carolina has never scored more than 24 points inside Neyland Stadium.

What do all of these numbers mean? I am not entirely sure outside of highlighting the home-field advantage that Tennessee will have Saturday night. I do think this is an incredibly consequential game for Josh Heupel long term. Losing as a double-digit favorite to Shane Beamer two seasons in a row would be a stain that is very hard to wash off. I don’t think Heupel has to worry about that though. I think a hostile crowd highlights South Carolina’s weaknesses. Even in a valiant effort, I think that will be more than Spencer Rattler and his receivers can overcome. Tennessee makes a few big plays on defense, and otherwise relies on its ground game to wear down the Gamecock defense.

Prediction: Tennessee 38, South Carolina 27

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One Response

  1. South Carolina will kick Tennessee’s ass Spencer Rattler will get 400 yards in the air. The Russian team will get about 180. Happy dick South Carolina 59, Tennessee 13 read it and weep big daddy.

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