Tennessee vs. South Carolina
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) • Columbia, S.C.
TV: SEC Network
Series Record: UT leads 23-7-2
Setting the table:
A second season of sorts starts for the Vols on Saturday. Tennessee took some lumps in the middle of the season, but the Vols still have a chance to make a bowl game. The Vols are looking for at least three wins in their final four games, and though it won’t be easy, at least there aren’t any ranked opponents standing in their way. The emergence of Joshua Dobbs at quarterback also gives the Vols some early-season-type optimism going forward. With Justin Worley (shoulder) out, Dobbs got his chance last week and made the most of it against Alabama, putting 20 points on the board and leading a big UT comeback that ultimately fell short to Alabama, but did seem to spark the teams and the fans. Dobbs, a more mobile quarterback, is expected to get the start in Columbia against a South Carolina defense that has struggled this year. But the Gamecocks have some offensive firepower themselves. It should be a close one this week.
Where South Carolina has the edge:
Tennessee’s defense, after carrying the team for portions of this season, looked flawed against Alabama last week, giving up 27 points in the opening 20 minutes of the game. It did, however, settle down and only allow one more score the rest of the game. But the Vols can’t have another lapse against this balanced SC attack. The Gamecocks run the ball very well with a massive offensive line and future-NFL back Mike Davis. They can throw it around too. Receivers Pharoh Cooper, Nick Jones and Shaq Roland have all put up big numbers and quarterback Dylan Thompson is on pace to be SC’s single-season passing record holder, currently with 2,241 yards. It seems that the Gamecocks should be able to move the ball to some extent against the Vols.
Where Tennessee has the edge:
It feels a little strange to say that UT’s offense will have an edge against any SEC defense at this point, but with the confidence that it showed with Dobbs last week and the fact that SC is nearly last in the SEC in every important defensive category, the Vols have a chance to move the ball and put points on the board. The Gamecocks have been gashed especially on the ground, where they’re dead last in rushing defense in the league. Dobbs’ presence on the field helps the run game because he can pull it down and run it himself or, at the very least, the defense must account for him as a running threat. Look for the healthier combo of Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane to get a lot of work and for Dobbs to make plays both on the ground and through the air against what can be a porous SC defense.
“You do need success and we always talk about playing with confidence but quite simply, how do you gain confidence? By having success. So they did experience some success, they have worked exceptionally hard and we are going to be challenged again at South Carolina. Very big, physical defensive front, very active linebacking corps, can match up, play man-to-man in the back end. So we are going to be challenged again. But yes, a byproduct of having confidence is also having success.”
– Tennessee head coach Butch Jones on the offensive line playing better
• The Vols haven’t won a true road game against any opponent other than Kentucky or Vanderbilt since 2007 (Mississippi State)
• Butch Jones got his first signature win at UT when the Vols knocked off SC 23-21 on a game-winning field goal by Michael Palardy last season
• Jones hasn’t ruled Worley out of the SC game, though it seems unlikely that he’ll play. WR Josh Smith, RB Devrin Young and DT Trevarris Saulsberry are among the other key Vols who will be out this game. South Carolina LB Skai Moore is doubtful.
This should be a good one. Which defense can get enough stops in this game? That’s the biggest question. Both teams should be able to move the ball and put some points the board. The defense that steps up and gets some stops and turnovers will give their team the edge in what very well could be somewhat of a shootout. The Vols must prove they can win a tough one on the road. That’s something they haven’t done in years, but Tennessee had a huge breakthrough in beating the Gamecocks at home last year and perhaps the Vols can make some more history this year.