The Vols travel to Columbia this Saturday night to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks and hope to get back on track by kicking off the back stretch of the schedule with a win. As expected, Will Muschamp's influence on the Gamecocks program has thus far been to develop them into a defensive football team without a great deal of offense to speak of.
So here are the keys to the Vols coming home with a win.
Dominate the run game. The Gamecocks' defense is good against the pass and very good in the red zone, which are the primary reasons they're not giving up very many points. But their run defense is terrible; no team the Vols have played so far this season ranks worse. But most of the offensive line is back and Jalen Hurd is back, and even though Alvin Kamara is out for a few weeks, we now know that John Kelly is pretty good, too. So Tennessee needs to just run the ball and then run it some more. And when they're done with that, they need to run it some more. Maybe they can throw it a time or two if all of the defensive backs creep all the way up to the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
Do not give life to the South Carolina offense. For most of the season, the Gamecocks have not really been very good at much of anything on offense. Their run game ranks as the worst the Vols have gone up against. So does their ability to actually put points on the board. They have a decent completion percentage, but not many passing yards. They're not very good at protecting against sacks and TFLs. They're not very good on first or third down, and we don't know about second down because there's no stat for that. But they did change things up a bit last week against UMass by starting true freshman Jake Bentley at quarterback. The big question there is whether he made much of a difference or whether it was all a mirage in the wavy shape of UMass, one of this year's absolute worst teams. The Vols need to make sure that any improvement the Gamecocks felt last week as a result of the change is reversed this week. Shut down the run. Limit the passing game by way of sacks. Tighten up in the red zone. Keep the point total low enough that the Vols offense can outscore them only by running the ball.
That's it, really. South Carolina's been a tough game for the past three years, but this year's Tennessee team should have a more distinct advantage this time around. Let's hope they make the most of it.
Tennessee 33, South Carolina 20.
The tables for this week are below. But first a quick note on strength of schedule. The Vols currently hold the nation's most-difficult schedule, while South Carolina's is ranked 111th. The Gamecocks' opponents to date have S&P+ rankings of #100, #64, #90, #70, #15, #74, and #119. Tennessee's are #37, #12, #92, #9, #74, #15, and #3. All of that means that the first table is "stronger" than the second. Handy table:
|15 (Texas A&M: L; 45-38)||15 (Texas A&M: L; 24-13)|
|74 (Georgia: W; 34-31)||74 (Georgia: L; 28-14)|
Processing Tennessee vs. South Carolina. Pool of comparable opponents make up the nation's toughest schedule.
|Tennessee||South Carolina||Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Next Worst||Next Best||Next Worst||Next Best|
|Tennessee rushing offense vs. South Carolina rushing defense||169.6||211.1||None||Texas A&M||None||Texas A&M||240|
|Tennessee passing offense vs. South Carolina passing defense||224.0||183.6||Virginia Tech||Florida||Virginia Tech||Florida||200|
|Tennessee rushing defense vs. South Carolina rushing offense||219.4||106.9||None||Florida||None||Florida||80|
|Tennessee passing defense vs. South Carolina passing offense||207.7||210.6||Georgia||Ohio||Georgia||Ohio||220|
|Tennessee scoring offense vs. South Carolina scoring defense||30.4||21.3||Ohio||Texas A&M||Ohio||Texas A&M||31|
|Tennessee scoring defense vs. South Carolina scoring offense||29.9||16.9||None||Georgia||None||Georgia||20|
Processing South Carolina vs. Tennessee. Pool of comparable opponents make up the nation's 111th-most difficult schedule.
|South Carolina||Tennessee||Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Next Worst||Next Best||Next Worst||Next Best|
|South Carolina rushing offense vs. Tennessee rushing defense||106.9||219.4||None||Massachusetts||None||Massachusetts||100|
|South Carolina passing offense vs. Tennessee passing defense||210.6||207.7||Kentucky||None||Kentucky||None||160|
|South Carolina rushing defense vs. Tennessee rushing offense||211.1||169.6||Vanderbilt||Georgia||Vanderbilt||Georgia||250|
|South Carolina passing defense vs. Tennessee passing offense||183.6||224.0||Massachusetts||Texas A&M||Massachusetts||Texas A&M||220|
|South Carolina scoring offense vs. Tennessee scoring defense||16.9||29.9||Kentucky||Mississippi State||Kentucky||Mississippi State||17|
|South Carolina scoring defense vs. Tennessee scoring offense||21.3||30.4||Vanderbilt||Texas A&M||Vanderbilt||Texas A&M||21|