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Most Important Vol: South Carolina

Our writing staff makes its picks for this week's most important player.

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Will Shelton - Cam Sutton

A quieter year for Sutton defensively, but still good enough to land him in the first or second round of many NFL mocks and give him a decision to make at the end of the year.  Helping slow down Pharoh Cooper is job one this week; the Gamecocks may be struggling but Cooper, who torched the Vol defense last year, is still fourth in the conference in receptions and third in receiving yards.  Sutton may not be on him exclusively, but as Cooper's 44 catches are 28 more than the next closest Gamecock and 38 (!) more than the next closest wide receiver, I'd be willing to bet he gets plenty of attention from #7.

Nathanael Rutherford - Justin Martin

I think Justin Martin is the most important Vol for a number of reasons this Saturday. Cam Sutton will be matched up with South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper a lot during the game, but chances are there will be plenty of plays where Cooper and Sutton don't line up across from each other. Cooper accounted for 286 total yards and 4 touchdowns in last year's meeting, and the Vols have to do a better job of containing him this year because he is easily South Carolina's biggest weapon. Justin Martin will likely have to cover Cooper when Sutton isn't, and Martin's impact will be further felt on Saturday thanks to Emmanuel Moseley's suspension for the first half of the game due to a targeting call in the second half of the Kentucky game last weekend. Martin has come on strong over the last few games, and he needs to carry that momentum through this weekend to cover the best receiver the Vols have faced all season.

I_S -- Corey Vereen

Two weeks in a row, Vereen has played well. Two weeks in a row, the Vols' pass rush has looked good and the defense has held their opponents under 32% on third down conversions. Coincidence? I think not. As everyone else is mentioning, South Carolina has an electric receiver in Pharoh Cooper, and good secondary play will be key to stopping him. But another good way to stop a talented receiver is by not giving the quarterback any opportunity to get him the ball. South Carolina doesn't have any experienced quarterbacks on their roster. Perry Orth (and anyone else who may come into the game) can be rattled. And if Corey Vereen is playing the kind of game he played the last two weeks, the Gamecocks offensive line is going to struggle to prevent at least one of Vereen and Derek Barnett from rattling him.

Hunter Turner -- Micah Abernathy

Butch Jones praised the true freshman defensive back in his Monday press conference, announcing that Abernathy would compete with underwhelming junior Malik Foreman at the nickel. While Abernathy probably won't make much of a difference against a bad South Carolina team, having the speedy freshman take snaps and earn playing time this year is important for next year's defense. If Cam Sutton leaves early for the pros, Tennessee is going to need a starter across from Justin Martin and Emmanuel Moseley has been up-and-down through his two years on the Hill. I'd expect South Carolina to move standout wide receiver and lone offensive threat Pharoh Cooper around the formation to try and scheme away from Sutton, so if Abernathy can hold his own, Tennessee coaches and fans should be excited.

Chris Pendley - Owen Williams

South Carolina kind of has a rushing attack? Maybe? A little bit? Regardless, Brandon Wilds is back, Shon Carson is decent, and assuming Cam Sutton does his thing (note: he'll do his thing), that basically turns South Carolina's offense into "what can they do on the ground?" So, we'll do the usual thing we do in this case and Owen Williams as the guy on the defensive line responsible for gumming the Gamecock rushing attack up enough for the rest of the defense to swarm to the ball carrier.

Really, I'm just annoyed that Will already grabbed Sutton and I'm just lashing out for attention.