FACTS & STATS: Site: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) — Columbia, South
Carolina. Television: SEC Network. Home Record: Tennessee 3-2, South Carolina
3-2. Away Record: Tennessee 0-3, South Carolina 1-2. Neutral Record: Tennessee
0-0, South Carolina 0-0. Conference Record: Tennessee 0-4, South Carolina 2-4.
Series Record: Tennessee leads, 23-7-2.
GAME NOTES: The Tennessee Volunteers will try for the fifth time to earn their
first SEC victory of the season on Saturday night when they head to Williams-
Brice Stadium to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Outside of conference action, Tennessee has fared very well, with its only
loss in four tries coming at nationally-ranked Oklahoma (34-10), but it has
yet to get over the hump in the toughest league in the nation. The Vols came
out on the losing end of a 34-20 decision at home against nationally-ranked
Alabama last weekend to slip to 3-5 overall.
South Carolina has fallen well short of lofty preseason expectations that
pegged it as one of the favorites to win the SEC Eastern Division, as it sits
at a mere 4-4 overall and 2-4 in league action. The Gamecocks put up a great
fight at No. 5 Auburn last Saturday but ultimately fell, 45-32, for their
third loss in their last four outings.
The Vols have gotten the best of the Gamecocks in the all-time series, 23-7-2,
which includes a 23-21 upset over a nationally-ranked South Carolina squad in
Knoxville last season.
Considering it faced Alabama’s stout defense last week, the Vols’ offensive
output of 383 yards was promising, especially since their total offense this
season (332.4 ypg) ranks 12th in the SEC. Their scoring offense (23.9 ppg)
comes in even lower at 13th.
Justin Worley (.623 completions, 1,579 yards, 12 TDs, eight INTs) missed the
Alabama game with a shoulder injury and is questionable to return this week.
Joshua Dobbs, who impressed against the Crimson Tide with 192 yards, two
touchdowns and a pick on 19-of-32 passing in addition to 75 rushing yards,
would get the call again if Worley is unable to suit up.
Jalen Hurd has taken over the featured back role as a true freshman but his
production has been modest at best (113 carries, 473 yards, two TDs). The team
as a whole rushes for less than 105 ypg at a mere 2.9 yards per carry.
Marquez North (320 yards) and Alton Howard (292 yards) have kept pace with one
another at receiver with 30 catches apiece, although North is more effective
in the red zone with four touchdowns to Howard’s one.
Defensively, Tennessee has been able to keep most of its games within striking
distance by allowing only 22.9 ppg and 343.8 ypg while forcing 16 turnovers.
After getting down 27-0 early in the second quarter to Alabama last week, the
unit gave up just seven points over the final 42 minutes.
A.J. Johnson is one of the nation’s best linebackers, having tallied 86
tackles, 8.5 TFL, two forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks, an interception and a blocked
kick. Cameron Sutton (three INTs, FF) and Todd Kelly Jr. (two INTs, fumble
recovery) are also active in the turnover battle. Derek Barnett (11.0 TFL, 4.0
sacks) and Curt Maggitt (7.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) anchor a stellar defensive line.
Against one of the nation’s best defenses a week ago, South Carolina racked up
30 first downs and 535 yards only to fall just short of an upset in the fourth
quarter. The performance was hardly an anomaly for the unit, which racks up
35.1 ppg and 461.4 ypg, with both numbers ranking in the upper half of the
Dylan Thompson had a career-best performance against Auburn with 402 yards a
school-record tying five touchdown passes, but his three costly interceptions
ultimately made the difference. On the season, Thompson is completing 60.8
percent of his passes for 2,241 yards with 22 touchdowns (two rushing) and
Thompson’s impressive numbers have led to a big season for Pharoh Cooper, who
sits with team highs in catches (40), yards (553) and touchdowns (six) after a
huge showing against Auburn (seven receptions, 127 yards, two TDs). Nick Jones
is also in the midst of a solid campaign with 31 receptions, 406 yards and
Mike Davis is one of the best three-down backs in the country. He’s turned 142
carries into 750 yards and eight touchdowns to go with solid receiving totals
as well (21 receptions, 223 yards, TD).
While the Gamecocks’ offense has held up to their end of the bargain, the same
cannot be said about the defense. The unit went from being one of the most
feared units in the nation in years past to allowing a league-worst 32.8 ppg.
Skai Moore (51 tackles, sack), T.J. Gurley (48 tackles, INT) and Gerald Dixon
(31 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) are the only defensive standouts to speak of.
South Carolina’s defense has been vulnerable this season, and even though
Tennessee could be down to its backup quarterback for the second straight
week, Dobbs showed against Alabama that he’s capable of handling the offense.
Still, even with a loss last week, the Gamecocks took a step in the right
direction in battling Auburn to the wire, and they should return to the win
column back in their home stadium.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Carolina 35, Tennessee 31