The Tennessee Volunteers and South Carolina Gamecocks are set to square off on Saturday night at 7:30 pm before a raucous crowd at Neyland Stadium.
The Vols will hope to have some key players available, but some decisions will not be made until game time, per Josh Heupel. Those players include WR Ramel Keyton, RB Jaylen Wright, and C Cooper Mays, all key parts of the Vols’ offense.
Here are three keys to a Tennessee victory on Saturday night.
1) Following two of General Neyland’s game maxims.
You might be saying, what? Or perhaps “no kidding, dummy.” But seriously, General Neyland’s third and seventh maxims are two that the Vols simply haven’t followed for the majority of the season.
Number three: if at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don’t let up....put on more steam.
Number seven: Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes.
Now, I don’t have to sit here and argue whether the Vols have lived up to this. They haven’t. Josh Heupel said as much this week when talking about finding the razor-thin margin of a competitive edge and staying on it. I’m sure you’ve also used your eyeballs during the season and watched the team play sloppy, unfocused, and dispirited football during various parts of the month of September. The Vols have let up at times and not carried the fight for a full 60 minutes yet. Virginia has been the closest thing, but the last 3 weeks, not a chance. That has to change this week.
If you can’t get up 110% for payback for 63-38 before a frenzied crowd at home on national TV, just go ahead and pack it in for the year. The effort and focus had better be all there for this one.
2) Joe Milton needs to complete well north of 60% of his passes.
South Carolina will undoubtedly try to keep the Vols from taking the top off the Gamecocks’ defense, so one can expect some opportunities to be there in the intermediate passing game. Joe hasn’t managed to complete at least 60% of his passes in the last two games, and that’s almost certainly a major goal of Shane Beamer and his staff: make Milton beat you with his arm.
The Vols will try to run, and they should have some sustained success. However, like most competitive SEC games, the QB will have to hit on a handful of throws that could swing the direction of the game. If he’s off, then the Vols will be in for an almost certain in-the-twenties four-quarter dogfight. Or worse.
3) The Vols’ pass rush needs disrupt the South Carolina passing game.
Spencer Rattler proved last year that, if he’s got time, he can wreck a defense. As such, the Vols are going to have to find ways to get him uncomfortable. That doesn’t just come from sacks. Forcing him to scramble and throw the ball away. Go to checkdowns. Make a mistake. It is crucial for the Tennessee defense on Saturday.
Fortunately, the Vols have some players off the edge that are doing just that in James Pearce, Jr. and Tyler Baron. Baron leads the team with 4 sacks, and Pearce has been a revelation, one of the best edge rushers in the SEC, per Pro Football Focus.
The Vols front has to make some plays, or the Gamecocks offense should still find ways to put up a solid point total, even with WR Juice Wells reportedly out for the game.