After years of waiting for 'Carolina's year' to really be 'Carolina's year', you are right on track to win the East. What is the excitement level like in Columbia for this, and do you think it will motivate or distract (or neither) the team when they play Tennessee?
The excitement level is pretty high. Although many rival fanbases believe all Carolina fans are in a perpetual state of believing that "this is the year," a lot of us are simultaneously wondering if it'll ever be the year. This looks like as good a chance as we've ever had, and it's obviously got us really wired up to see if this is finally the real thing or not. We were in a similar position record-wise going into the UT game in 2007, but a lot of us knew that that team had attained its ranking through smoke and mirrors, and that bore itself out with the late season slide. This year, our guys look legit, the rest of the East is way down, and we control our destiny. That's got a lot of us very optimistic, and you can expect to see a very raucous crowd on Saturday.
As far as how the excitement will effect the team this weekend, I'm not really sure. Obviously, you could say that we're not dealing with success very well--after beating 'Bama, we've lost to Kentucky and had a relatively close game against Vandy. I'd say, though, that the Kentucky loss owes to Marcus Lattimore going down and our coaches losing their cool after it happened, while the Vandy game was one of those that wasn't quite as close as it may look score-wise. Moreover, our guys seem to feed off crowd energy and excitement, so coming back home should be a good thing for us. I expect us to do fine with the energy this weekend.
One of the few bright spots for Tennessee has been markedly improved special teams play. Tell us a little bit about South Carolina's special teams.
Well, our PK / P Spencer Lanning is quite good. His punting numbers are solid, and while Carolina's efficient red-zone offense has dictated that he hasn't needed to kick many FGs, we're confident in his ability to make them when needed. Other than that, special teams aren't Carolina's strength. We're not bad in K / P coverage, but we've struggled to get anything going in either return game, and a couple of snafus on punt returns were very costly against Kentucky. We've not come up with any key blocks that I can remember. All in all, I'd say that special teams hasn't hurt us too much (other than against UK), but it also hasn't really helped us.
If Tennessee were to pull off the upset, what do you think would be considered the reason for the win? (E.g. had UT beat LSU, we'd be talking how LSU's horrific quarterback play kept UT in the game, and Miles's horrific clock management let UT win.)
Turnovers. My impression, largely based on contrasting the LSU game to some of your other ones, is that Tennessee will have trouble hanging with good SEC teams past the first half unless it gets some key turnovers. Despite moving the ball well, LSU turned the ball over at key moments against the Vols, and that allowed you to stay in the game. I think things will play out similarly this week. Carolina will move the ball, and if it protects it, we'll control the game and eventually win. If we turn the ball over, we'll be in trouble.
As a Gamecock fan, what has been the most aggravating facet of your team's play so far this season? Do you see that as a liability against Tennessee?
Pass defense. Coming into the season, many were saying that we'd have one of the league's best secondaries. That hasn't played itself out, though. We've given up a lot of yards through the air, and our inability to stop Mike Hartline against Kentucky led to our loss in that game. The problems have been two-fold. First of all, we've had a lot of busted coverages and general problems with execution. We've also, though, been running a lot of soft zone coverage that has left us vulnerable to the kind of dink-and-dunk approach used by Kentucky, for instance. So, strategy has also hurt us. We're apparently moving to run zone coverage a bit less than before, and we had good results with more press coverage against Vandy. As far as whether this will be a liability against Tennessee, I'm not sure. I think that if we continue to cover more aggressively, we should do fine against your passing game. I'm interested to see how we do against your TE Luke Stocker, though. We haven't played many teams with a first-rate TE this year, and I'm interested to see if our LBs can cover the middle of the field well against a guy like Stocker.
Tennessee was game against everybody except Georgia this year - for at least a half. If UT's trend of playing close before tiring out continues, how long do you think Tennessee will keep up with South Carolina? (Memory jog: UT was tied with Oregon at halftime, tied with Florida in the 3rd, led LSU at the 0:00 mark of the 4th, and down by 3 to Alabama at the half.)
This is an interesting question. Other than against Vandy, South Carolina has been a much better first half than second half team. However, I kind of expect us to run the ball early on and then to move to multiple-WR sets later as depth problems beset your secondary, which may equal a slow-moving first half and more scoring in the second. That could lead to something similar to what's happened in your other games. Of course, everything depends on which team executes their game plan best, and a lot remains to be seen there. One thing is for sure--the longer UT stays in this game, the better its chance to win. A key turnover late could lead to an upset if Carolina isn't careful. Therefore, I wouldn't be opposed to seeing us get a couple of quick scores early on.
Many thanks to Gamecock Man, may we whip his team to the point of tears and eternal sorrow. Or at least a one-point win. Whichever.