The final two games of an incredible regular season are fast approaching. The 5th ranked Tennessee Volunteers are on the cusp of their first 10-win season in 15 years, with the potential 10th victory this next Saturday. That’s when the Volunteers head over to Williams-Brice Stadium to face off against the 6-4 South Carolina Gamecocks.
The Volunteers made light work of the Missouri Tigers last week. The ratings systems may have even underestimated Tennessee! Unsurprisingly, they view South Carolina as a similar foe, meaning Tennessee is a big favorite heading into Saturday. So what makes Shane Beamer‘s Gamecocks any different than the team Tennessee just faced? We break it down.
FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index)
Overall: 4th (Last Week: 5th)
Offense: 2nd (Last Week: 4th)
Defense: 30th (Last Week: 25th)
Fun fact: If you doubled the score I predicted for Tennessee last week, you still wouldn’t get to their actual point total. I will go ahead and accept the award for Worst Prediction of Missouri Week after proclaiming:
“Tennessee fans will fondly remember last season’s contest, where the Volunteers racked up 683 yards of offense and ran the Tigers off the field—to the tune of a 62-24 final score...I very much doubt that’s going to happen this Saturday.”
That was, in fact, almost entirely what happened. It was also impressive enough to give Tennessee a boost in the rating systems. As I showed last week, the Tigers have a legitimately good defense. Putting up 66 points on it is just overkill. But hey, this team needs some style points if it wants to get into the playoffs.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The South Carolina offense last year was—to put it mildly—not good at all. They made waves this offseason to try and remedy the situation. Most notably, by bringing in Oklahoma transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler. The former 5-star recruit had flashes of greatness at Oklahoma, and the hope was that a fresh start would help him tap into that potential. Pairing Rattler with someone as promising as running back MarShawn Lloyd (729 total yards, 11 touchdowns, 5.6 yards per carry) seemed like a surefire upgrade.
It has not worked out that way. Rattler has looked just as pedestrian at South Carolina as he did at the end of his Oklahoma days. This has prompted a lot of calls to fire the South Carolina offensive coordinator, Marcus Satterfield.
Frankly, I think the frustration is warranted. Whatever you think of Rattler, he showed a lot more at Oklahoma than he has at any point this season at South Carolina. The Gamecocks system just doesn’t seem to highlight its quarterback’s strengths. In fact, it seems to have exacerbated Rattler’s weaknesses. The quarterback has taken 23 sacks this year, and he has a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The only dangerous part of the South Carolina offense is their ground game, where Lloyd has proven he’s one of the better backs in the SEC. They also like to switch it up and use athlete Jaheim Bell as a tight end/running back of sorts. A trio of Rattler/Lloyd/Bell should be able to produce more than it has. That being said, the South Carolina offensive line has proven to be worse than even their pessimistic fans thought. More on that below.
FPI (Football Power Index)
Overall: 5th (Last Week: 5th)
Offensive Efficiency: 2nd (Last Week: 4th)
Defensive Efficiency: 42nd (Last Week: 35th)
Special Teams Efficiency: 23rd (Last Week: 17th)
Conversely, I’m actually not surprised that Tennessee’s defense got knocked down a little. I will wait until after the season to give a full breakdown, but I felt that the first 2.5 quarters against Missouri were probably the worst the defense has played all season. There is really no justification for letting the Tigers find the success they did with Brady Cook on the ground. Tennessee’s safeties remain a massive problem, and they are the Achilles heel of this team.
Still, credit must be given for tightening up in the third quarter and shutting them down the rest of the way. It may have been a bit of a hangover game for the defense. But even with the second half improvement, it wasn’t enough to avoid getting dinged in the rankings.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Offensive Efficiency: 72nd
Defensive Efficiency: 82nd
Special Teams Efficiency: 1st
Perhaps more shocking is South Carolina’s defensive drop off. The Gamecocks are outside the top 60 in multiple systems heading into this contest. To give some perspective, they finished last season ranked 34th by FEI in the same category. They returned a lot of their production from the defense as well.
It’s fairly inexcusable. There is no reason the Gamecocks should be this bad on defense. Arguably the most egregious performance was last week against the Florida Gators, where Florida completely dominated them on the ground. They ran for 374 yards and 6.9 yards per carry. That same story has played out through the whole season, where teams are finding tremendous success by just bullying South Carolina at the point of attack. Again, this South Carolina team has a ton of talent in their front seven. They’ve got senior defensive tackle Zacch Pickens, junior defensive end Jordan Burch, junior defensive tackle Tonka Hemingway, etc. That they are regressing should be a red flag.
If you want, I guess you can say that their pass defense is marginally better. They’ve got a likely early round NFL draft pick in cornerback Cam Smith. But I’m not sure the secondary as a whole is actually much better. If teams can get nearly six yards per carry running the ball, they probably aren’t going to air it out much. This defense can be attacked in a variety of ways, and you have to imagine that Tennessee is going to get theirs by some method.
Football Outsiders Line Stats
Not much change.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Wow. That is a lot of red.
After seeing these numbers for their offensive line, you might feel some sympathy for Rattler and Lloyd. Their line can’t do anything. In fact, Lloyd having the numbers he does makes it all that more impressive. There’s a fair amount of coaching blame to go around, but I’m not sure how many coaches can really play to their strengths when this is what’s on their front line.
Those defensive numbers are pitiful however. Simply put, the Gamecocks just don’t win in the trenches. They’ve got some dudes, but they don’t play together as a team.
FEI: Tennessee, 97.3% — Projected Score (47.4-20.4, Tennessee)
FPI: Tennessee, 89.4%
SP+: Tennessee, 83% — Projected Score (39-22, Tennessee)