Tennessee travels to Williams-Brice stadium this weekend to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Despite the beatdown at the hands of Alabama the week before, the Vols should have plenty of confidence heading into this one. South Carolina has been underwhelming at best so far this season and their 3-3 record shows it.
So what do the Vols need to do in order to ensure a win this weekend?
1. Find a replacement for Trey Smith
I realize that this is practically impossible given that Smith was ruled out indefinitely this past week. I also realize that you can’t actually replace him, either.
So what needs to happen to protect Jarret Guarantano’s blind side?
I don’t have the answer, but I know it blatantly lies in the offensive line somewhere.
Whether it be Nathan Niehaus moves over from guard or Chance Hall receiving a promotion, Tennessee needs to figure out something quickly.
It would make a ton of sense to move keep Niehaus at guard. He hasn’t played much tackle this year and has been been decent at guard. Hall would make the most sense considering he played tackle before his knee injury.
South Carolina also returns their best pass-rusher this week in junior defensive end D.J. Wonnum - making this scenario even more crucial than it already was.
The coaching staff will figure this out, but a true answer may not arrive until 2019.
2. Stop the run
I know this is a cliche, but in this case it’s an extremely accurate truth.
In South Carolina’s three losses on the season, they’ve averaged just 87 yards per game on the ground. They averaged 3.6 yards per carry and didn’t score a single touchdown.
If the Vols want to win, they have to continue this trend.
Tennessee’s three wins saw them give up about 115 rush yards on average. This will be an interesting matchup to watch considering the Gamecocks’ recent struggles at quarterback.
Rico Dowdle has just 83 carries through six games. 41 of those came on two games. In three losses, the Gamecocks ran the ball 24 times on average compared to 44 times on average in three wins.
It’s easy to get them to abandon the run if you can stop it and and stop it early. Which segues perfectly into the next key.
3. Get off to a fast start
This has been a repetitive theme throughout 2018, but this week it needs to happen in a big way.
The Gamecocks will be amped and ready to play at home after coming off a bye week. On the flip side, they’ve lost two of three on their own turf. If the Vols can get a couple of quick score while simultaneously holding South Carolina out of the end zone, it could quiet Williams-Brice stadium quickly.
It would play right into the Tennessee’s hands and would allow the defense to settle in and play their game. We’ve already seen what Pruitt can do with a lead once this year.
4. Stop Deebo Samuel
Samuel is easily the Gamecocks’ best player on offense and he may be the best player on the entire team.
He leads all receivers with 33 grabs and 382 yards to go along with four touchdowns. South Carolina likes to him use him all over the field as well as in the return game, so the Vols will need to remain focused even more when he is on the field.
An all-around athlete with speed to burn, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Gamecocks come out and try to test a young Tennessee secondary early. Samuel and his fellow receivers, along with quarterback Jake Bentley, have not been the definition of consistency this season. It’s almost certain they worked on their deficiencies over the bye and will come out looking to see if they’ve curtailed their problems.
Vols fans should expect to hear Samuel’s name called on Saturday, hopefully it’s in a limited fashion.
5. Jarrett Guarantano’s health
Yes, Keller Chryst came in and played well after Guarantano was hurt against Alabama.
But this Guarantano’s team, there is no doubt about that. He will be the starter unless there is a dramatic shift disregarding the health of the two players.
How long will Guarantano be able to hang in there and how effective will he be? Pulling him out of the game on Saturday may have been more of a move to save him for the rest of the season than anything. Think about it, the Vols were down 28-0 and they knew there was no chance of beating Alabama. They do, however, have a chance to win all of their remaining games. So, why not preserve JG?
Those questions will be answered today and we will find out just how healthy he really is. For Guarantano’s sake, hopefully he can stay upright especially now that Smith will no longer be around to protect his blindside.