Tennessee vs. South Carolina: Storylines

It will be a spooky affair at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon as the Tennessee Volunteers visit Columbia for a Halloween weekend showdown with the South Carolina Gamecocks. USC will be looking to send the Vols and first year coach Derek Dooley to a 0-5 SEC record, while continuing the march toward the SEC East title.

The Gamecocks still lead the Eastern division with a 3-2 league record, and hope to advance their lead further on the loser of the Florida-Georgia game. Tennessee comes in after a blowout 41-10 loss to Alabama, and is playing for pride in the SEC at this point.

Gamecocks continue to sit atop SEC East in muddled division race

As it has been for much of the year, South Carolina is currently in first in the SEC East, but only by the slimmest of margins over perennial contenders Florida and Georgia. With those two playing in Jacksonville this weekend, a win against the Volunteers could potentially put the Gamecocks in even better position to win their first ever SEC East title.

But a chance to play in Atlanta doesn't come easily, and despite being a large favorite against Tennessee, USC still has a lot of work to do in order to stay atop a division marked by parity. Even Steve Spurrier admitted that he isn't sure his team has earned the right to be considered the favorite in their own division.

"Oh, I don't know about all that," said Coach Spurrier earlier this week. "Statistically, we're not a whole lot better than some of these teams. We're making a lot of third downs, we're scoring touchdowns, (and) we've given up a bunch of yards – prior to last week. Last week, we stopped Vandy pretty well. But can we continue as we go through the rest of the games?"

Finishing down the stretch is a problem that has been a signature of the Spurrier era. After years of collapsing in October and November, the Gamecocks once again have a chance to reverse that negative trend. And according to Spurrier, a chance to accomplish something the program hasn't done before is all his team can ask for right now.

"All we are is in position right now, which is good. It's very good. Whether or not we can finish, we're going to find out. It was sort of good to be tied at halftime and win the game last week. The two we'd lost, heck, we were leading going into the fourth quarter in both of them. So, we didn't finish well a couple of games. We ended up finishing against Vandy a lot better. That's probably what we're going to need to do if we're going to be successful down the stretch here."

The Head Ball Coach also said that his team is aware of where it is and what it needs to get done, so there isn't much discussion regarding the immediate future of the team right now.

"We know where we are," added Spurrier. "So we don't talk about that too much. We need to talk about how to beat Tennessee and trying to get ready to play our best game of the year (as well as) trying to get our linemen a little bit meaner, competitive, ready to play. (We have to get) the quarterback to play a little bit better and our secondary guys have got to try to continue to not have blown assignments. We've got to improve a lot. If we can do those things, we know we have a chance."

Vols bringing experience to Columbia

Despite their struggles this year, the Tennessee Volunteers do actually possess some experience at key positions. But a year after losing players like Eric Berry and Jonathan Crompton last season, UT has been struggling to find playmakers as well as wins in a rugged league schedule.

However, the Vols have found some relief in players like junior running back Tauren Poole, junior quarterback Matt Sims, and senior linebacker Nick Reveiz. Coach Spurrier said that contrary to popular belief, Tennessee does have experience on their depth chart as well as the fact that the Gamecocks may be the team actually relying more on freshmen to get the job done.

"I heard they had 10 senior starters on that team," noted Spurrier. "I read that somewhere. I guess it is a little bit but we all play a lot of freshmen. Ace Sanders and Marcus Lattimore are freshmen out there. If they're good players, it doesn't matter if they're freshmen or seniors, it just depends on how they play, really. I don't have the answer for anything. I'm worried about our team. We have some good freshmen; we've got some good seniors, and so forth. We try to put the best players out there regardless what year they are in school."

Lattimore makes his return

After sitting out last week's game against Vanderbilt, Marcus Lattimore looks to be back in the lineup this weekend. The team has been careful in rehabbing their prized freshman and will make sure Lattimore is 100-percent healthy before sticking him back in the lineup.

Luckily for USC, they didn't need Lattimore against the Commodores as Brian Maddox filled in admirably, running for a career high 146 yards on 24 carries.

"Brian Maddox had some nice runs in there and finally had a little running room," said Spurrier. Kenny (Miles) just didn't have much room there."

Even with Marcus healthy and available, Spurrier said he wants to make sure his team is ready to win in different ways, and that other running backs will have opportunities if the need arises.

"We always talk a little bit about opportunity to play if you can earn the right to play or earn the right to start, we give everyone that chance," added Spurrier. "With Marcus here, if we sign another running back, he'll probably know that guy has a chance to come in here and beat him out. It's not just given, you sort of earn you way every year. That's the way I've always tried to coach. The good players, they like that. They don't want anything given to them. They want to earn it year in and year out."

Garcia continuing to stand out at QB

Stephen Garcia was probably the most talked about Gamecock heading into the season, as fans looked to see whether or not he could consistently deliver in big games. After a benching earlier in the year in a loss at Auburn, Garcia has come back strong, defeating then #1 Alabama at home and Vanderbilt on the road last week. Even in the loss at Kentucky, Garcia delivered with strong numbers before the crucial game ending interception.

It was another high completion rate that helped lead the Gamecocks to victory in Nashville as Garcia picked the Vanderbilt pass defense apart to the tune of 31-39 passing for 355 yards and two touchdowns. For the year, Garcia sports a sharp 72-percent completion rate and has thrown for over 1,600 yards with twelve touchdowns.

"Stephen had a good game (at Vanderbilt)," said Spurrier. There were a few plays we (maybe) could've executed better. (But) yeah, he's played well. But he has to play well if we're going to win, if we're going to beat these guys. Right now, we're not getting any turnovers. We've got to; hopefully, get a big play or two somewhere. Stephon Gilmore had the big play against Furman that helped get that one away. That's been about it this year."

Spurrier faces Dooley for the first time

First year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley will be making his first trip into Williams-Brice Stadium as the Vols new head coach. His father, SEC legend and former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, will no doubt be watching as his son takes on another legend in Steve Spurrier for the first time.

This will be the first time Spurrier has taken on a Dooley as a coach, as Vince had already retired by the time Spurrier rose to prominence as Florida's head coach in the early ‘90s. Despite Derek's inexperience as a head coach at the SEC level, Spurrier said that he will no doubt use his excellent background to prepare his players in the best way possible.

"No, I didn't coach against his dad," said Spurrier. "Played against him. But, yeah, his dad was one of the best. No question about it. I don't really know Derek all that well, just really met him this year … and so forth. But, anyway, yeah, Tennessee's going through some coaching-change probably problems. But they've got a lot of good players. They've got a lot of good players that play well, play hard. We're expecting a very difficult, tough game. I'll tell you that."

Players staying focused

Although it would be natural for Gamecock players and coaches to begin a little bit of scoreboard watching this weekend, the coaching staff insists this is not the case and that the team is simply focused on taking care of business for themselves.

If South Carolina wins this weekend and the Florida Gators fall in Jacksonville, it could set up the Gamecocks with a chance to clinch the Eastern division with a win against Arkansas next weekend. But there's a lot of football to be played between here and Atlanta, and South Carolina's players are taking it one game at a time while keeping one goal in mind: win.

"The focus part, oh, it's pretty good," said Spurrier. "Pretty good. Yeah, it's been pretty good all year, really, as far as being ready to play. Of course, obviously, we didn't finish very well in a couple of games. But, yeah, I don't sense we've got as many goof-off type guys as we used to have around here. We don't have too many. I think our players understand that, if we can improve, there's some things that we can achieve that haven't been done (here) before. The only thing we concern ourselves with is trying to play better than that last game, trying to play the best we can. That's really what we're talking about right now."

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