All season long, we’ve been saying that South Carolina is the attainable upset. Is that still the case? Tennessee - when we last left them (i.e., before Bristol and before the weird band thing, the likes of which I don't understand nor comprehend nor care too much about, the last of which is a product of not living close to the city; I do, however, approve of someone setting Jimmy Cheek off, at least in theory, and man this parenthetical just keeps going and going and going and going) - lost a heartbreaker to Georgia and have been looking systematically stronger.
If there's going to be a time, we're pretty close to it. That being said, it's not like South Carolina's an easy out.
- Yes, there’s ostensibly a QB rotation involving Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson; in practice this is Connor Shaw’s team. Thompson will get some snaps - he has in every game save Georgia - but Shaw is the main quarterbacking weapon.
- This is actually a thing, especially considering he’s averaging 9.2 yards per attempt and a 10/0 TD/INT ratio, which is patently insane. (Fun fact: Tennessee’s faced both starting QBs in 1-A who have yet to throw a pick; Marcus Mariota is the other one.) With that being said, the Gamecock passing game is ...well, lo-fi is the wrong phrase here given 9.2 yards per attempt, but they don’t pass a ton. Shaw will put it in the air 20-30 times a game, but he’ll also tuck and run about 12 times a game. For a Tennessee defense that has been hurt by mobile QBs in the past (read: any of them, basically), this isn’t good.
- What also isn’t good for Tennessee: Mike Davis, who’s getting close to feature back carries (18.5 per game) and 6.7 yards per carry. That’s a nasty combination; at this point, Davis can probably run backwards and top 1,000 yards on the year.
- South Carolina - when they put the ball in the air, at least - doesn’t really have preferred targets. Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones, Mike Davis, and Shaq Roland all average over 2 catches a game. Ellington, Byrd, and Roland are all dangerous - you may remember Roland from his season-opening TD against North Carolina - while Nick Jones is the possession receiver type and, well, Mike Davis. TE isn’t a huge part of the offense, so there’s that at least.
- A strange aside: South Carolina has played at either a 60-play or 80-play pace in every game this season. I don’t know what this means beyond anecdotally being okay at whatever pace since it doesn’t seem to depend on the opponent. I can, however, tell you that they flat dominated Arkansas (89 plays to 37), so good luck reading into that.
- Somewhat related: turns out when you run nearly 90 plays to your opponents’ 37, you can do things like dominate time of possession by 27 minutes. That Arkansas game might be a wee bit out of an outlier.
- Of course, this is all a preamble to the Tiny Richardson-Jadeveon Clowney matchup (maybe you’ve heard of these guys). Clowney has underwhelmed if you consider that he’s not beating double-teams and recording every single tackle for South Carolina, which - go figure - is tough for a lineman.
- Clowney’s also fighting through pro aspirations a bone spur, which may limit his effectiveness. So may Tiny Richardson, who has probably has this game circled for months.
- There is nobody else on South Carolina’s defense. (Yeah, this isn’t true at all.)
- Absent Clowney, the Gamecocks don’t get behind the line too much - Chaz Sutton, Kelcy Quarles, and Jimmy Legree are the key guys - but 6.5 TFL per game is right about the national average. Tennessee, by comparison, has allowed 3.5 TFL a game. Sutton and Quarles have benefitted from Clowney’s presence causing offensive line issues, while Legree needs to be accounted for coming from corner blitzes.
- The secondary isn’t great at outright pass defending at the point of reception - 5 INT and 6 PBU among the team is both a) lackluster and b) lucky - but when they do pick one off, they’ll return it.
- On total yards-per-play, South Carolina’s held two opponents below 5 yards a play - North Carolina and Vanderbilt. (While it seems weird to not have Arkansas on this list, there was some serious fumblitis going on.)
- The kicking game - namely, Landon Artl - is a decent enough weapon, getting touchbacks on just under 40% of his kicks. Tyler Hull (38 yards per punt) is decent, but nothing to write home about. The most notable thing about the kick / punt return game: there’s a guy named Pharaoh Cooper. That’s it, really.
- Also critical: the team’s pretty strong converting third downs (53%), 8th nationally and just about average in preventing third down conversions by opponents (38%, 61st). This is probably due in part to Shaw’s presence as a runner.