The Tennessee Volunteers (2-5) are looking to bounce back from a tough loss on Saturday when the South Carolina Gamecocks (3-3) come to town.
It will be interesting to see how Tennessee responds after last week, but one thing is for sure, and that’s the fact that South Carolina won’t care one bit about last week.
That’s because the Gamecocks are looking to stay above .500 after blowing a fourth quarter lead against the Gators. It would’ve been two straight victories against top-10 opponents if they held on.
But enough about last week. Let’s dive into this week’s game preview.
Everyone affiliated with the Vols was on their edge of their seat last Saturday night as the Vols unexpectedly hung tough with the Crimson Tide for the better part of three-and-a-half quarters.
It was midway through the fourth quarter, Tennessee was down 28-13 and faced a 4th-and-goal from inside the one-yard line. It looked like it was about to become a one-score game until Jarrett Guarantano lost control of the football and fumbled as he attempted to dive over the pile of bodies and into the end zone.
Alabama defensive back Trevon Diggs then scooped up the ball and housed it, running 100 yards into the other end zone and simultaneously putting the dagger into Tennessee’s heart.
Sure, it was a tough way to lose a hard-fought game, but the Vols have a chance to make up some ground this weekend against the Gamecocks.
Brian Maurer likely won’t start after suffering another concussion against Alabama, but it’s not clear right now if Guarantano will get the start. If he does, then expect a lot of action on the ground for the Vols’ offense.
But what if JT Shrout gets the start? Will the Vols try and get him into a quick rhythm? Will they limit him? How long will his leash be to begin with?
I think it’s safe to say there will be plenty of questions if Shrout starts on Saturday.
Speaking of quarterback injuries and a lot of running the ball, that’s exactly what the Vols will see when the Gamecocks come to town.
Incumbent starter Jake Bentley is out for the year, but Ryan Hilinski has done an OK job, tossing seven touchdowns to just three interceptions so far this year. In terms of overall efficiency, though, he hasn’t been very good.
South Carolina makes its money in the ground game, where Rico Dowdle and Tavien Feaster both average right at 6.0 yards per carry. Dowdle had to exit last week’s game against Florida and is currently questionable when it comes to this matchup, but third-string back Mon Denson has played well when given the opportunity.
Bryan Edwards is a really good receiver. Outside of him, however, are mid- to low-level wideouts who will struggle against Tennessee’s secondary. Tight end Kyle Markway has shown an ability to make plays, but is inconsistent.
The offensive line is obviously pretty good when it comes to running the ball, but struggles in pass protection. The unit is tied with Tennessee (81st) with 16 sacks allowed on the year.
Per the usual when it comes to a Will Muschamp defense, the Gamecocks are good at stopping opponents on third down (57th) and have 17 sacks on the season.
The Vols are familiar with D.J. Wonnum, but Javon Kinlaw’s presence will make things tough for the offensive line. Tennessee will need to limit the rush, especially if Shrout starts.
But, of course, the real objective here is for the Vols to finally beat a Muschamp-coached team. Three coaches have tried, including Jeremy Pruitt, and three have failed, going 7-0 against Tennessee since 2011.
What To Watch For
- Emotional letdown: Last week was a tough loss. How will this team respond?
- Trust in Guarantano: Will Pruitt play him? If he does, how quickly will he pull JG if things go wrong?
- Improvement on the offensive line: These guys looked really good last week and it should carry over into this week.
- Stop the run: South Carolina isn’t very good when it has to throw, so expect the Vols to load up in the box and force the Gamecocks to sling it.
- Bryce Thompson breakout: It really feels like he will have a big game on Saturday.
- Quarterback: Whomever starts will need to have an effective game.
- Ty Chandler: He had a very good game against the Gamecocks last year. Maybe Chaney will take note.
- WR Jauan Jennings: Tennessee’s quarterback will need Jennings to be a reliable target.
- DL Greg Emerson: It’s good to see this kid to develop like he has. He will be needed Saturday.
- DL Darel Middleton: We saw the big man come to life last week. Is it a sign of things to come?
- LB Henry To’o To’o: The Gamecocks are going to run the ball and To’o To’o will be key in stopping it.
South Carolina Gamecocks
- QB Ryan Hilinski: Pruitt will tear apart a one-dimensional offense, so Hilinski will need to make some plays.
- RB Tavien Feaster: He’s the Gamecock’s leading rusher (492) and he averages 6.0 yards per carry. I think it’s safe to assume the Vols will need to shut him down.
- WR Bryan Edwards: Edwards already has 40 catches on the year and is easily the best receiver on the team.
- DL D.J. Wonnum: Remember this guy from last year? How about the fact that he only had two sacks all season, but guess who they came against? Yup. What a life.
- DL Javon Kinlaw: He already has more sacks this year (5) than he did the last two years combined. Something has certainly clicked with Kinlaw.
- CB Israel Mukuamu: The sophomore corner back is having a hell of a year and is a true shut-down corner.
South Carolina somehow pulled off an upset over Georgia two weeks ago and had a fourth quarter lead over Florida until the Gators scored back-to-back touchdowns in just a little over two minutes to take the lead and pull away for good. Up until that moment, it didn’t look very good for the Vols.
Make no mistake, Tennessee is improving, which is crazy to think about considering where things were a few weeks ago. This will definitely be a competitive matchup, regardless of who plays quarterback.
Speaking of which, that’s what will decide this game. Even after last week’s debacle, Guarantano should still be able to do just enough to keep the offense productive. Shrout is nothing but a major question mark, but so was Maurer - and we saw how that turned out.
If the Vols can avoid the stupid penalties and turnovers, then they should win this game. Will that happen, though? I’m not sure.
But I’ve been far too down on this team this year to just continue to look at the negatives while there are obvious positives. The Vols find just enough offense to get it done this weekend and improve to 3-5.