Finally, the Tennessee Volunteers have entered the back half of their 2018 schedule, marking the end of their gauntlet run through Florida, Georgia, Auburn and Alabama. Tennessee will see the schedule ease up a bit from here on out as they try to get to six wins and clinch a bowl appearance.
With little room for error, every game will be a big one down the stretch. Up next for Tennessee is South Carolina, a team that the Vols nearly knocked off during last season’s 4-8 campaign.
“It’s a hard place to win, in Columbia,” Jeremy Pruitt said on Monday. “Especially at night. So it’s a tremendous challenge for our team. They’re going to be very well-coached. They’ll be hard-nosed, they always are.”
Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks enter this one at 3-3, which has to be a little bit of a disappointment for South Carolina fans. They were a trendy pick to be the second best team in the SEC east, but they’ve already dropped conference games to Kentucky, Georgia and Texas A&M this year.
“They are throwing the football a little more,” Pruitt said of South Carolina. “Probably more than they have in the past. I know Bryan McClendon and Dan Werner being there, they’re spreading it out. They’ve got a good quarterback, good wide receivers, they’re balanced. But really, we need to fix us.”
You may remember McClendon’s name being tossed around the rumor mill for Tennessee’s receiver coach position this winter. He chose to stay with the Gamecocks, earning a promotion to offensive coordinator instead.
His offense features two of the nation’s best receivers in Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards. Those two would give any secondary in the country problems, but perhaps particularly Tennessee’s, who is dealing with some injuries at safety.
Pulling the trigger for South Carolina is Jake Bentley, who has been up and down this season. Bentley leads the conference in interceptions, tossing seven in just five games played. It’s been a big problem for Muschamp’s team and it’s something that Tennessee might be able to capitalize on come Saturday night.
“We recruited (Jake Bentley). His dad Bobby used to be the head coach at Byrnes, so I’ve known him for many years,” Pruitt said. “He used to bring his team down to Hoover High School and we had 7-on-7 there. Jake’s a coach’s son. He understands what they’re trying to get done. He’s tough. He can get the ball out of his hand, makes all the throws. Very unique situation that he leaves, really he could have played his senior year in high school, leaves and goes to South Carolina and ends up being the quarterback. That says a lot about him. We’ll have to find ways to affect him Saturday because if you let him sit there and stand in there in the pocket, he can deliver to some really good players.”
Tennessee’s defense was drilled by Alabama and Tua Tagovailoa, but that’s hardly anything to feel too bad about. They’ll get a much more even matchup this weekend in Columbia as they fight to get back to even on the season.
South Carolina and Tennessee will kickoff on SEC Network on Saturday night at 7:30 PM eastern.