Tennessee comes off its bye week in desperate need of a win to silence at least some of the deafening noise surrounding the football program.
The Vols will take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in Neyland Stadium, with Butch Jones once again facing off against Will Muschamp - whom he has famously never defeated.
South Carolina’s season has been up and down so far, but the Gamecocks are coming off a win over Arkansas last week.
Last year’s meeting between Tennessee and South Carolina was a turning point in the Vols’ season, when Tennessee lost to the Gamecocks following a bye week - the Vols are also coming off their bye week for this matchup - and UT’s hopes of winning the SEC East were all but ended.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will be making his first start for Tennessee on Saturday after junior Quinten Dormady started Tennessee’s five games of the season.
South Carolina has a defense which is definitely cause for concern for Tennessee, particularly with the Vols having a quarterback making his first career start. The Gamecocks forced four turnovers last week and took three of them back for touchdowns.
South Carolina’s offense is certainly competent enough, though it looked much better before the season-ending injury to star wide receiver Deebo Samuel. The Gamecocks scored 35 points in a season-opening victory over North Carolina State - which looks better by the week - but also scored just 17 points in a last-second win over Louisiana Tech.
South Carolina is a team similar to Tennessee in several ways. But the Gamecocks’ defense is certainly an imposing figure for a Tennessee offense which has not scored a touchdown in its last six quarters.
After narrowly escaping Louisiana Tech and losing on the road to Texas A&M, South Carolina got back on track last Saturday with a 48-22 win over Arkansas.
South Carolina’s defense scored 21 of the team’s 48 points, with two interceptions and one fumble recovery returned for touchdowns.
Jake Bentley completed 16 passes on 31 attempts for 199 yards and three touchdowns. The Gamecocks also added 159 rushing yards.
QB Jake Bentley - South Carolina does not possess a stellar offense. Thus, it needs great quarterback play to put up points. Bentley has been pretty good this season, completing 114 of 188 pass attempts for 1456 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. Tennessee’s defense will need to make getting pressure on Bentley its top priority.
LB Skai Moore - On the defensive side of the ball, Skai Moore is a name you would like to hear as little as possible on Saturday. Moore has 42 tackles and two interceptions in South Carolina’s first six games and seems to always be around the ball.
LB T.J. Brunson - South Carolina’s leading tackler the past three seasons has been Skai Moore, but sophomore T.J. Brunson leads the Gamecocks with 49 tackles in 2017. Brunson will certainly be looking to get a few more when John Kelly carries the ball this weekend.
This is going to be an interesting one.
South Carolina isn’t a particularly good football team, but Tennessee is not in a great place as a program right now. Hopefully the Vols come out angry and ready to silence some doubters as opposed to the sluggish starts Tennessee has shown in each of its first two SEC games.
The key to this game will be the play of Jarrett Guarantano. He has played sparingly off the bench this season, but it’s different being the starter. Tennessee’s offense has looked stagnant in its last two games, so hopefully Guarantano is able to provide a spark for the Vols.
Tennessee needs to win this game to keep hope alive of having a decent season. If South Carolina leaves Neyland Stadium with a victory, things could spiral even further for the Vols.