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Most Important Vol - South Carolina

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Our writing staff makes its weekly picks for the game's most important player.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Will Shelton - Jalen Hurd

Dobbs is the headline now, but I think Jalen Hurd has the best chance to be the headline Sunday morning.  South Carolina has stopped no one running the football this year, and with the added dimension the offense gets from Dobbs I think Hurd will have his best chance yet to really show off.  The run game can take tremendous pressure off Dobbs to win it himself and help keep the Vols in front if they establish an early lead.  If South Carolina's offense is as good as many Gamecock fans seem to believe it is, maybe UT's ground game can even keep them off the field a little if we need to.  But either way, I think Hurd has to be excited about having a quarterback who can ease his burden, and about facing a defense that should provide plenty of real opportunities.

Incipient_Senescence - Butch Jones

Tennessee has played a couple competitive games against good teams, but South Carolina is not a good team, and merely being competitive against them is not enough. The Vols need to win. And the Vols have not exactly been wonderful at winning competitive games under Butch Jones. If you throw out South Alabama last year, where Tennessee jumped out to a 31-7 lead and then fell apart enough to make it close, Tennessee is 1-4 in the last two seasons in one-score games. Yes, the win was over South Carolina, so maybe a rematch against the Gamecocks gives the Vols some confidence, but more often than not, Tennessee has not been able to make the plays needed to win close games. A month ago, when Florida came to town, the Vols looked clearly superior, but when the pressure came to make a play in the fourth quarter, they wilted. That can't happen this week. Tennessee needs to play close games like they play when they're down two scores and looking to make things competitive. That's about mentality, and that's on Butch Jones.

Hunter Turner - A.J. Johnson

The Gamecocks are down this year, but they still have one transcendent talent who could single-handedly win the game if given the opportunity: running back Mike Davis. A Georgia native, Davis was heavily recruited by the Vols, who pitched the stout but speedy player on continuing the line of dominant Tennessee running backs stretching from Montario Hardesty to Reggie Cobb. Instead, Davis chose to go to Columbia, where he's currently the lone bright spot on an offense which has varied from excellent to cover-your-eyes awful. South Carolina's passing game has been incredibly inconsistent under quarterback Dylan Thompson, and Davis gashed the Vols last year in Knoxville even though Tennessee was able to pull off the upset. Expect the Head Ball Coach to dial up a gameplan heavily reliant on Davis and backup Brandon Wilds in the run game, and play-action passes if the running game has success.

If the Vols are going to live up to the excellent defensive reputation they've established this year, then the defensive line is going to have to handle South Carolina's larger, slower front, but, more importantly, the linebackers are going to have to be consistent in filling the correct gaps against the run. Senior middle linebacker AJ Johnson is surrounded by more talent than at any other point in his Tennessee career, and he needs to trust his teammates and concentrate on using his considerable abilities to shut down Davis. If Johnson, Reeves-Maybin, Maggitt, and Weatherd can hold Davis to manageable yardage on first and second down, the Vols should be able to continue their mastery of third down. It's as simple as that: slow down (if not stop) the running game, and watch the Gamecocks' passing game implode.

Kid Bourbon - Josh Dobbs

Keep the offense rolling, young man.  Keep the offense rolling.  If the offense even loosely resembles what we saw against Bama, Tennessee should win the game.  South Carolina's defense just isn't very good and an offense executing with the crispness we saw from Josh Dobby* and Friends versus Bama should have a great deal of success against Sakerlina and likely result in a win (given an expected performance from the D).  So, let's do that.  Because, "I love winning....it's like way better than losing, man," said Nuke Laloosh.

*

Dobby

Chris Pendley - Cam Sutton and the Secondary-ettes

Yeah, so as it happens Amari Cooper is really good. South Carolina has a three-pronged receiving attack (the aforementioned Mike Davis will also catch the ball), but none of Pharoah Cooper, Nick Jones, or Shaq Roland are on Cooper's level. Cam should be able to lock one guy down--we do know he's mortal now, FWIW, so it's not a guarantee--but the rest of the secondary will need to step up against the other two guys. Dylan Thompson's good; yards will be allowed.

With South Carolina's defense being most aptly described by LOLOOPS, the offense that generates the most blood wins. Deflect Thompson through the air and this game is Tennessee's for the taking.