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South Carolina Q&A with Garnet & Black Attack

Wesley Hitt

We did a podcast with our SB Nation South Carolina site, and John Havard was good enough to answer some additional questions for us here as well.  You can find our responses to their questions at Garnet and Black Attack here.  I picked us to win, which will shock you not at all.

1. Aside from Clowney, who should Tennessee be concerned about on the Carolina defense?

The next-most dangerous playmaker for Carolina's defense is probably CB Victor Hampton. When he's on his game, Hampton is an excellent cover corner with NFL skills. He's also not afraid to get physical as a tackler. He's made several big plays for us this season, including an interception last week against Arkansas that set the blowout in motion. That said, Hampton is also notorious for lapses of focus. He'll occasionally jump routes over-aggressively, looking for the big interception. If I were Tennessee, I would test him with some double-moves.

2. Where are the holes on the Carolina defense Tennessee may be able to exploit?

The weaknesses that stick out most to me would be:
--As said, Vic Hampton's overaggressive play. Test his discipline and see if you can get him to bite on a fake and beat him downfield for a big play.
--The linebackers are weak in pass coverage over the middle. Try to create some matchup problems with your tight ends and tailbacks. I should note that we seem to be resolving this problem as T.J. Holloman and Skai Moore garner more playing time at linebacker. We continue to struggle, though, at the hybrid "spur" position, where Sharrod Golightly presents a potential target for the Vols to pick on.
--The end opposite Clowney, Chaz Sutton, is weak in run support, which is good for you because you obviously don't want to run too many plays in Clowney's direction. Sutton really struggles to set the edge.

3. Some of the names have changed, but South Carolina's offense continues to produce with Connor Shaw and Mike Davis.  We know the Gamecocks are balanced overall, but do you expect to see them lean more on the pass or run against Tennessee?

I expect continued balance. Our offense has been extremely balanced this year, which is exactly what Spurrier wants. Spurrier is at his best when he has enough balance to keep opponents guessing regarding what he'll try next. Over the past two years, opponents have often played the run aggressively in order to force Connor Shaw to beat them. This year, though, Shaw has become a real assassin throwing the ball, which has opened up things for the run game, in turn giving Shaw more opportunities. Tennessee does have better athletes on defense than most teams we've faced this year, and the Vols' ability to go toe-to-toe with our receivers might dictate a more run-first mentality, but with the way Shaw is playing, I doubt Spurrier will be afraid to allow Shaw the chance to beat the Vols in the air. Again, I look for balance from Carolina.

4. With plenty of potential distractions with increased attention around Clowney, how have you seen the maturity and leadership of this team stand out or struggle?  Are there concerns about playing to the level of their opponent or a potential road letdown?

There have been a couple of major distractions for this team--first of all, the media circus surrounding Clowney, and second of all, the letdown of losing what was thought to be our biggest game of the season in week two. I also think that the team has struggled with defensive leadership. We lost several senior leaders on defense from a year ago, and while there's a lot of talent on the current defensive roster, there's a also a lot of inexperience. This has led to some problems with focus late in games where we've given up big leads due to boneheaded defensive plays. We need some players to step up and keep the young guys' heads on straight. The good news is that the defense showed a bit more resiliency last week against Arkansas, doing its job in finishing the blowout. Moreover, whereas it seemed like the SEC East was out of reach after Georgia beat LSU, it now seems likely that the injury-depleted Dawgs will lose one or two more SEC contests, meaning that South Carolina may control its own destiny. That should inspire the team to treat every game with urgency. I'm not concerned about us playing down to our opponent this week. The Vols may have fallen on hard times, but everyone on our team should recognize that UT is a big-time opponent with enough talent to beat us handily if we don't play well. I don't think anyone at USC mistakes UT for Kentucky.

5. Give us your prediction for Saturday

I like UT to run the ball well, and I've been impressed enough with Butch Jones's playcalling to believe he'll find some way to exploit some of our issues in pass coverage. It may help Tennessee if it can run well enough to shorten the game, because South Carolina's offense is playing lights out and likely won't squander many drives. Tennessee's run game should help it do that. Still, if I had to pick one of the two teams to make a costly mistake or two, it would be Tennessee, and regardless, I think South Carolina's offense will ultimately prove too much for the Vols. I'm taking Carolina, 34-21.