Tennessee-South Carolina Preview: What a Difference a Month Makes
When South Carolina destroyed Georgia on October 6 by a shocking 35-7 score, the Old Ball Coach had his program ranked 3rd on the 6-0 W/L tally. How times have changed.
Early this week, a very irritated Steve Spurrier indicated that his Gamecocks will not win the SEC title this season and added that his team wasn’t strong or tough enough mentally to handle the lofty ranking and the games that followed (LSU and Florida, both on the road). Nothing like losing (or winning for that matter) to get Steve spinning out good material for the scribes.
South Carolina’s offense thrives on its running game. But all-world tailback Marcus Lattimore rushed for only 35 yards on 13 carries in Baton Rouge in a slim-margined loss (23-21) — a game in which he suffered a bruised hip — and 13 yards on 3 carries in the 44-11 blowout loss at Gainesville (before which he was limited in practice due to the injury).
A healthy Lattimore was a must for South Carolina to have reached their once-achievable goal of an SEC Championship. After all, he ranks fourth highest in yards per game (93.3 ypg) in a career among current NCAA players. And a healthy Gamecock running game is not what Tennessee fans should be looking forward to — the Vols’ defense ranks at the bottom of the SEC in rushing defense (246 yards per conference game).
Thus, theVols desperately need a sputtering Garnet-and-Black running attack to have a decent shot at a sorely-needed win on Saturday.
Tennessee’s improved rushing attack (they are averaging double the amount of rushing yards per game achieved last season) has been dampered with the loss of TB Rajion Neal, who may play Saturday but will not be near 100% because of his high-ankle sprain that kept him out of the Bama game.
Of course the running game hasn’t been Spurrier’s only problem.
QB Connor Shaw was replaced at halftime in the Florida game in favor of Dylan Thompson. But Shaw reportedly has the backing of his head coach who said this week that Shaw would get yanked against Tennessee only if he is injured. That doesn’t sound like a compliment to Tennessee, not that I would expect one from Science Hill’s Special One.
The Vols haven’t had much to brag about lately with their quarterback either.
Tennessee’s Tyler Bray has lost his luster as a one-time dark horse for the Heisman. He has completed only 27 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or farther with no TDs and four INTs in SEC play this season (66% / 7 TDs / 0 INTs against non-conference foes). His frustration boiled to the point where he refused to take questions in the post-Alabama presser.
South Carolina has had its problems on the other side of the ball, too.
Against LSU, the until-then stout South Carolina defense gave up 258 rushing yards, more than double the most allowed in any of the previous games. The Gamecock defense played significantly better at Florida the following week (183 total yards allowed), but it was the three early turnovers in The Swamp, two by Gamecock special teams, that paved the road to that loss.
The one constant for the Gamecocks has been the play of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney who is second in the conference with 7.5 sacks, leading his SEC-leading sack defense (29 total team sacks). Saturday will be the Carolina sack-attack’s biggest test this season against Tennessee’s offensive line who have given up only three sacks, a number that leads the SEC.
The Vols’ defense? A complete train wreck.
It has been a very quiet week in Knoxville, but only when it comes to the team and their practices. All of this week’s noise has centered on the fate of Derek Dooley and whether or not Jon Gruden will be the replacement.
The big question relates to the mood of this Volunteers team. How are they reacting to all of this talk? Will they be able to focus on the task at hand — the last opportunity to beat a ranked football team this season? Has Dooley ‘lost’ this team like he most assuredly did down the stretch last season?
A win over Tennessee would make it 3 straight over the Vols for South Carolina, something that has never occurred and which seemed impossible about 5 seasons ago.
Of course, a very long 5 seasons ago, nobody in the Vol Nation could have contemplated the possibility of three head coaches in five seasons on the heels of a firing of Phil Fulmer.
Welcome to late October 2012 and another visit to Columbia where both Johnny Majors (1992) and Fulmer (2008) coached their last games as a Tennessee head coach.
South Carolina 38 Tennessee 21