Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said earlier in the week that fourteenth-ranked South Carolina assistant head coach Ellis Johnson and his Gamecock defense will be licking their chops for the opportunity to get after true freshman quarterback Justin Worley Saturday night when the Volunteers and Gamecocks meet in Knoxville.
Johnson isn't buying into it.
"I don't know. I think it's a set-up," Johnson said following Thursday's final practice before the team loads up and heads up to Knoxville.
In fact, Johnson says his team better worry about the Volunteer offense running the football.
"They're going to hammer the ball," Johnson said. "They've got a good, physical offensive line. I don't think people respect the running game because they weren't running it early in the season. They were playing to Tyler Bray. They have a tremendous receiving core. They've got one of the best wide receivers hurt a few weeks ago. Then they lost the quarterback a few weeks ago, so all of a sudden they've had to change gears against two of the best defenses in the nation (LSU and Alabama). I know it's going to be tough to throw a true freshman quarterback out there, but Tennessee has got a good enough football team that we better play well."
Johnson may be giving credit where credit is not due. Tennessee hasn't run the ball much because they can't run the ball. Only Arkansas' pass-happy offense has less carries than Tennessee this season in the SEC, but they're still averaging over 50 yards more rushing per game than the Vols. Tennessee is dead last in the conference in yards per carry and the only team in the conference that averages less than 100 yards rushing per game. Their 89 yards rushing per game ranks them 115th in the nation, but Johnson believes they are improving.
"The last couple of weeks they have been running the football," Johnson said. "They had two or three drives on Georgia and LSU. They're capable of moving the ball against anybody. They had two 14-play drives against Georgia in the first half. They're a better offensive football team than people give them credit."
If Tennessee is to move the ball offensively it's going to have to be on Worley's arm more than the legs of Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane. Worley was a spectacular high school quarterback at Northwestern in Rock Hill, but this is college now and this is the SEC. Second-year offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and Dooley will likely have a simplified offense for Worley, likely limiting Worley's progressions.
"They'll throw it," Johnson said. "I think Justin is very capable of throwing the ball. They're going to spread it out and let him get it out of his hands quickly, and they're going to max protect and let him throw deep. We'll have to be ready for it all."
- Steve Spurrier said the team has had good practices this week and they appear to be ready to play well in what will be a huge game with SEC Eastern Division implications.
"After Thursday's practice I think our guys are ready to play well," Spurrier said. "We've had good practices this week and we're looking forward to the game in Knoxville. Tennessee is going to be tough, we know they are. They're going to give it their best shot."
- Bruce Ellington returned to practice, but was limited. Spurrier said he tweaked his hamstring Monday night during practice, but Ellington feels like he will be ready to go full speed Saturday night and it will not limit what the Gamecocks may do in the Wildcat formation.
"Who knows how the game will progress and if we'll need to use a bunch of Wildcat," Spurrier said. "Sometimes you get in a game and you don't plan to use it that much and you use it 15 plays, and other games you may not use it much. We'll see how the game goes, but he should be full go in case we need to use him a bunch."
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