Game Preview: Tennessee vs (21) South Carolina

UT vs S Car

UT-USC Chess Match

This All Hallow’s Eve matchup gives us two of the great coaching minds of a generation. Will the game become a chess match between a high-powered Spurrier passing game against Monte’s vaunted defense?

To answer this question, let’s think about the major strengths and weaknesses of this season’s South Carolina Gamecocks, and the Vols on the opposite side of those weaknesses.

Thinking About the Gamecock Strengths

PASS DEFENSE (2nd in the SEC; 3rd in the nation).

jack-o-lanternLB Eric Norwood is the Gamecock’s major star. He leads the team in interceptions and the SEC in sacks. The size of Tennessee’s OL is an issue, especially for pass protection – and USC has a good pass rush and great blitz packages, especially around the edges of any OL. The USC defense will likely try to confuse us. Tennessee will have to mix the run and pass effectively to keep USC off balance. Think Georgia, folks. We turned them into puppies doing just that. It’s now so bad for the puppies that they are still sticking pins into their Lane Kiffin voodoo dolls. Just read any Georgia football blog. Jeez!

Enter Jonathan Crompton. I’ve written more about Jonathan Crompton than anything so far this season. Needless to say, all eyes will remain on him. And we all know how much his performances have improved over the last month.When the Gamecocks played Bama a couple of weeks ago, I noticed the Gamecock defense intent on trying to confuse Tide QB McElroy. Because McElroy reminds me of Crompton (at his worst before the Georgia game), I think South Carolina will try hard to give Crompton something to think about. His track record of good decision-making is only two weeks old. Perhaps USC will even do a lot of stunting, which can be a gamble against a good rushing team like the Vols, though.

PASSING OFFENSE (2nd in the SEC; 47th in the nation — tells you the SEC is a rushing conference).

jack-o-lantern 2QB Stephen Garcia is a young man in the process of finding himself as a big-time college player. He ranks in the middle of the pack in SEC passing efficiency, but by all accounts is improving week by week. He’s going to be a good one as long as he successfully stays off the police blotter. He spreads the wealth around, passing to Moe Brown, who is back from a concussion, Tori Gurley, Weslye Saunders, and future gas-pumper Alshon Jeffrey (a cheap shot, I know, but I just had to do it once this week).

I will look for Garcia to avoid the pocket. Garcia was at his best against Bama when he was moving. His favorite motion is faking left and rolling out right. To counter, I expect Tennessee’s 14th rated pass defense in the nation to sit in zone coverage (pretty much the typical Monte) to lull Garcia into thinking he could be comfortable in the pocket, then in the second half throw the kitchen sink at him to see if he caves – USC doesn’t rate very well in QB protection stats. I have a feeling that Eric Berry is gonna like Halloween tricks. Garcia seems to get thrown out of kilter when faced with multiple defensive looks/schemes. Ooooooh, Monte!

Thinking About the Gamecock Weaknesses

RUSHING DEFENSE (8th in the SEC; 70th in the nation). Nearly 150 yards per game allowed.

jackolantern 3Since South Carolina’s main weakness is their rushing defense and their main strength is their passing defense, you would think that the Vols will just pound that ol’ rock all night long. But I don’t think the orange air force will remain grounded and go Trick-or-Treating Saturday night. On the contrary, we will pass with the main objective to loosen up the Gamecock defense in order to then pound them on the ground. So, I guess what I just said is that we’re still going to rely on pounding that ol’ rock, just not all night long. If Montario Hardesty gets 100+ yards, the Vols will get treats. If not, it could be a tricky night.

RUSHING OFFENSE (9th in the SEC; 70th in the nation). About 137 yards gained per game.

jack o lantern 4Kenny Miles has a net 410 yards and 1 TD. Jarvis Giles is next with 276 yds and a touchdown. But if Stephen Garcia and company successfully throw dinks an dunks, our linebacker corps may get softened up enough to where the Gamecock runners might just become effective. Remember, Tennessee’s major successes have been against pro-style offenses such as Georgia and Alabama. But it was trouble playing offenses with lots of motion and deception like Auburn and even Ohio. But here is something to think about - USC’s unproductive offense. How can a team have 431 total yards, no turnovers, and beat Vanderbilt by only 14-10? Gamecock faithful are aggravated with a lack of productivity in the red zone. Last week, USC never even had a chance in the Vandy red zone – the two TDs were passing plays for 35 and 43 yards. All of this points to what the Tennessee defense is adept at – bending, but not breaking.

QB PROTECTION (11th in sacks allowed in the SEC; 99th in the nation).

jack o lantern 5Tennessee ranks 10th in the SEC and 90th in the nation in sacks. So, maybe Chris Walker or Ben Walker will get maybe one. Since it is Halloween, I smell a couple of Rico McCoy/Eric Berry ballistic missiles into the Gamecock backfield.

Who’s gonna win?

It’s easy to fall into the weekly trap of saying that this week’s game is a huge game. They are all big. But, Saturday’s game is a huge game for both schools. USC needs this one to prevent a start to that dreaded late-season slide with bigger fish coming up. Tennessee needs it to keep from falling to 3-5 and putting a bowl bid in serious jeopardy. We do NOT want to have to go into Lexington to get our 6th win and barely scrape into the bowl season. So the Vols simply have to have this game. It looked like a banana-peel game when I peeked at the schedule in the spring, and it still does.

Back to the original question about the chess match. Yeah, it seems likely that watching Spurrier try to find a key to the lock of Monte’s defensive scheme will be the headline story. But like most Vol games, it’s going to come down to how effectively Tennessee runs against a pretty mediocre run defense. It will be more fun viewing the Monte/Steve show, but keep your eye on how the South Carolina defense tries to stop Montario Hardesty, my Vol MVP so far this season. That could be more interesting, and more important.

Like many games, I don’t know who will win, and unlike the week before Georgia, I’m not getting any vibe, any strong feeling. So, I’ll stick to what I said to Gamecock Man over at Garnet and Black Attack (who has a nice game preview). Close game. Somewhere in the 20′s. A Vol victory. It’s really wishful thinking rather than a message in a bottle.

Tennessee 23  South Carolina 22

Smokey howl

Goooooooooooooooo Big Orange!

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17 responses to “Game Preview: Tennessee vs (21) South Carolina”

  1. T K says :

    I LEFT MY SCORE IN ONE OF YOU Q&A SECTIONS AS DID DONALD SO I GUESS I BETTER GET IT OVER HERE WHERE YOU ALL DONT MISS IT. ITS HALLOWEEN, JACK-O-LATERNS ARE ORANGE, SO VOLS 27–COCKS 21. ACTUALLY I PUT MORE INTO THIS THAN THE COLOR OF JACK-O-LANTERNS BUT WE WILL SEE HOW IT PANS OUT.

  2. DW says :

    Let it be known that I was first in this week — as TK said, we were in an earlier NCV publication –so I’ll repeat here — Vols pound Cocks 23-9. Yes that was on purpose.

    TK – I don’t believe you “had any more” to put into your prediction other than the seasonal color. But I’m ok with your prediction regardless of how it came to you.

    Fred – with all your blogging, researching, analyzing and clever repartee, is there any time left for some Geological Engineering work? Maybe you GE guys just take the fall season off to study seismic patterns near football fields!

    Sandy — did you watch that Tarheel win last night over VT? I am guessing as a Raleigh guy, you might pull for NCState and were dissapointed with that fumble/last second feild goal. That game ended like the TN-AL game should have ended.

    • norcalvol says :

      DW, what I’ve found out via this endeavor is (1) how much time I actually used to have on my hands (because I’m still able to do my normal day job); and (2) how many ways there is to actually use/waste that time – blogging is just a new one. :-)
      I do like the idea of doing perhaps a study of several fields – perhaps I need to put a proposal together… Reminds me – wasn’t it Tom Seaver, the pitcher, who actually did a study of the soil types of major league pitching mounds? I’m serious…

      And, Go Heels! Big win for that program trying to come back.

      23-9! I though about calling you crazy, but then I remembered Sandy’s prediction last week – I called him crazy, and he turned out to be the sanest of the bunch. Ooooh, that’s a good idea – see what we got when I called him crazy? Good. DW, you’re crazy!!!

    • Sandy says :

      As for the ACC this year, I’m a Duke guy!

      I had a feeling that UNC was primed for the upset. A disheartening loss last Thursday night on national tv against FSU… a total collapse. Then travelling to Va Tech on another Thursday national tv game. VT hasn’t looked all that great this year… recall their escape against Nebraska. But UNC does have a good defense, and this felt like one of those setup games. And it turned out that way. Tough way to lose for VT, fumbling on their own 20 with 2 minutes left. That’s how upsets happen.

      It is interesting watching the ACC though. Nobody is really that good. Miami will lose again. It’ll be interesting to how Georgia Tech finishes… home against Wake, at Duke, and then the rivalry game against UGA. If they win them all, they’ll be solidly in the Top 10, but I’m not sure they belong there. I think they lose the ACC championship game, against whoever shows up, and in front of the 20-thousand in attendance!

  3. T K says :

    HEY DID YOU GUYS NOTICE THAT DONALD HAD NOTHING TO SAY TO BOBBY AND BERT. OLE WELLS IS A SMARTER MAN THAN I THOUGHT.

  4. norcalvol says :

    Another thought. A lot has been speculated about uniforms for Halloween Night. You, know, UT in the all-orange and USC in the all-black. Would be good.
    Here’s another one floating around: Orange and Black: [CLICK HERE].
    Call me absolutely nuts, but I’d go with that one for one night and one night only…
    Hopefully the Vol fans will all dress up as all sorts of hoblins and goblins – are are we too hung up to get crazy? Maybe TK will go as himself – scary!

  5. norcalvol says :

    More:
    Tom Mattingly (The Vol Historian) is bringing up the subject of the possible black jersey — apparently UT played with such tops in the early 20′s and in the 30′s and 40′s the spring game was termed the “Orange and Black Game”.

    How about black saturday????

  6. bert says :

    well, i’ve decided to keep my day job since i suck at
    tryin’ to figger out how da vols will do each week.

    but, this much i do know…the line this week is usc +6.5
    and that’s too many points for an unranked team to give
    to the team ranked 21st in the country…they want you
    to take da ‘cocks….

    so, since da mob knows alot more than i do about
    college football, i’ll take da vols to win and cover…

    ut 24
    ‘cocks 14

    • DW says :

      Bert–glad to see you had a moment of clairvoyance and I hope you put some money down on it! You done good on that score, second best to Sandy, but keep the job for a while longer. Besides, who would count the cows if you quit?

  7. T K says :

    THE TRADITIONALIST IN ME WANTS SOMETHING NOVEL FOR THIS GAME. LIKE WHITE PANTS AND ORANGE JERSEYS. I DONT WANT ANY BLACK ON THE TENNESSEE UNIFORM. I CANT BELIEVE FREDDY WOULD GO FOR THAT AND I DONT THINK LANE KIFFEN WILL ALLOW BLACK OR SIVER ON THIS TEAM. I HADNT THOUGHT ABOUT THE ALL ORANGE VS THE ALL BLACK. NOW THAT MIGHT BE A GOOD ONE. I HAVE HEARD THAT IN KNOXVILLE THEY HAVE BEEN STATING THAT YOU CANNOT GO TO THE GAME WITH A MASK ON. DONT KNOW IF THATS FACT OR NOT. COULD BE THAT WOULD BE IN VIOLATION OF THE PATRIOT ACT…..HELL, EVERYTHING ELSE IS. IF I COULD JUST FIND MY OLD BILL BATTLE MASK I WOULD BE ALL SET. REALLY GUYS, WHERE IS BOOBY SCROGGINS?

    • norcalvol says :

      TK: A Bill Battle mask! There’s an idea.
      The black and orange uni – a one night stand only, ’cause it’s that ugly :-(
      Anyway, what’s up with no masks?!?!? We’re getting way too uptight, aren’t we?
      Tell me, TK, how have the crowds been this year? I’ve heard that in some sections you can’t even stand up without somebody telling you to sit down. What’s going on with that?

    • DW says :

      So, you and Fred were pretty upset with the color scheme, but I guess you liked the end result. It seems lots of new coaches thinks he should shake it up and try to do something unique. Maybe the uni color scheme is just an easy thing to do. So now it’s done and I hope they can bury those jerseys for another few decades.

  8. Sandy says :

    I’m catching up late on this one… been a busy day.

    I got lucky last week and came close, just like the Vols.

    I feel momentum building… there’s probably a setback coming before this season is over, but I don’t think this is it.

    Vols win going a way… 31-14.

  9. OrangeBobber says :

    I have heard it said that the vols could be flat this week. Usually that is after a big win. But the moral victory last week some considered a win. So, I hope that we come out firing on all cylinders. I beleive tht if we win this one, it will springboard us to a good position for the rest of the season. If we don’t our bowl chances are slim. I do think we will get the win this week and my prediction is UT 27, Gamecocks 14. I have heard that their best receiver may not play so I’m basing it on that notion. Go Vols! Oh yes, DW is a great guy and highly respected in these circles.

  10. Big Orange Michael says :

    Kiffin denies the black jerseys will be coming out and that UT hasn’t ordered them.

    That said, I am all for this color-out thing as long as the color in question isn’t one of the predominant colors of the other team. Black is a primary color for South Carolina, so in my opinion it shouldn’t be used by the fans for this game.

    Orange-out or white-out yet. But black-out…please no.

  11. Big Orange Michael says :

    Oh yes…my score prediction.

    Vols 24, SC 14

    And I predict Berry breaks the interception record tonight as well…

  12. norcalvol says :

    Big Orange Michael:
    I got that feeling about #14 as well.
    I heard the all orange is most likely. If so, it would be pretty cool for TV that USC would wear all black, but I got a feeling they’ll wear all white…

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