KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:15 ET
SITE: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.
SERIES: Tennessee leads 22-5-2 (last meeting, 2010, South Carolina 38-24)
RECORDS: South Carolina 6-1, 4-1 SEC; Tennessee 3-4, 0-4 SEC
POLLS: South Carolina (No. 14 AP, No. 14 USA Today)
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For South Carolina: Stop the run. With untested freshman QB Justin Worley scheduled to get his first start for Tennessee, it is obvious the Vols will attempt to pound the ball against the Gamecocks. Although Worley was a highly regarded passer in high school, it is doubtful the UT coaching staff will allow him to take many chances in the passing game.
-- For Tennessee: Put two solid halves together. They Vols have shown they are good enough to hang with some of the best teams in the country for the first 30 minutes, but have looked awful when it matters most. Some kind of spark in the passing game and a shored-up secondary will be required to upset the Gamecocks.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
South Carolina managed to squeak by Mississippi State by having sophomore QB Connor Shaw merely manage the game. If the Gamecocks are to absorb the loss of All-American RB Marcus Lattimore, Shaw is going to have to pick up the slack. The team has a talented group of receivers, led by junior All-American Alshon, Jeffery that have been under-utilized so far this season. While freshman TB Brandon Wilds gets accustomed to his new role as a starter, Shaw will have to take advantage of their talents. Spurrier is also ready to utilize redshirt freshman Bruce Ellington at a variety of positions, including tailback and `Wildcat' quarterback. To make it all go, however, the offensive line will have to step up after having several sub-par performances.
Assistant head coach Ellis Johnson finally has South Carolina playing the way most envisioned prior to the start of the season. The defense is ranked highly in several categories and has continued to do something with which it failed to accomplish last season -- force turnovers. The Gamecocks have picked off 14 passes and recovered 10 fumbles for a Southeastern Conference best 24 turnovers. Much of the credit goes to the defense line which has been paced by ends Melvin Ingram, Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney. The unit has put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. One change could be made in the interior where freshman Kelcy Quarles could receive his first start beside senior Travian Robertson.
Tennessee will trot out its third different quarterback in the last four games when it squares off against South Carolina, and there's no such thing as certainty when it pertains to true freshman Justin Worley. Worley wasn't supposed to see the field this season and he has yet to throw a pass. He's taken a total of five snaps and all we running plays. A consistent running game would certainly boost his confidence. After failing to do much of anything in the first two SEC games, Tennessee's run game has shown steady improvement and was able to at least move the ball against the vaunted LSU and Alabama defenses. RB Tauren Poole is running as well as he has all throughout his career and the offensive line is blocking with more nastiness. The Volunteers need a wide receiver other than Da'Rick Rogers to catch a pass.
What was supposed to be Tennessee's top strength on defense has been a major weakness and what was supposed to be a weakness has been a pleasant surprise. That's the state of the Tennessee defense to date. The good news has come from the front seven. This group has limited top running backs Isaiah Crowell (Georgia), Spencer Ware (LSU) and Trent Richardson (Alabama) to some of their lowest outputs of the season. DT Malik Jackson is starting to look like the preseason all-SEC player he was anointed before the year and freshmen LBs A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt are looking like bona fide young stars. The problem, though, has been in the secondary. CB Marsalis Teague has been burned out of a starting job and SS Brent Brewer has been a disappointment. The Volunteers are still trying to settle on a rotation that can make consistent plays. It seems they never recovered from losing Janzen Jackson in the offseason after he was dismissed from the team for violation of team rules.
Gamecocks: The bye week was tough on South Carolina nationally. The Gamecocks dropped two spots in both the AP and USA Today polls. ... The South Carolina defense remains highly ranked in several categories. It is first nationally in pass defense, allowing 133.71 yards per game, third in passing efficiency, seventh in total defense (277.57) and 18th in scoring defense (19.14). The squad is also 15th in turnover margin, standing at plus 18. ... The Gamecocks are second in the SEC in passes intercepted (14) and first in forced turnovers (24). ... South Carolina has had very little luck in its series against Tennessee, but has won two of its last three encounters against the Volunteers. ... Three of the five all-time wins against Tennessee have come under coach Steve Spurrier. ... LT Kyle Nunn has been lost for the season with an injured back. While he has missed three straight games, the announcement was finally made during the bye week that he would not be physically able to return. ... CB Akeem Auguste will undergo an operation on his foot and is lost for the remainder of the season. He will apply for a medical redshirt.
Volunteers: Tennessee has lost only once to South Carolina in Knoxville and has never lost consecutive games in the series. ... Coming off losses to LSU and Alabama, Tennessee is facing a third consecutive ranked opponent for the first time since 1994 (No. 14 UCLA, No. 23 Georgia, No. 1 Florida). ... The second half has been absolutely brutal to Tennessee during SEC play. After getting outscored 31-0 in the second half Saturday at Alabama, the Volunteers have now been outscored 52-0 in the second halves of the past two games and 83-22 overall during SEC play. ... TE Mychal Rivera's role in the past two games has required him to block more and catch less. After notching five catches for 85 yards against Georgia, Rivera has just one catch for 13 yards in the past two games, as he's remained on the line of scrimmage to help provide maximum protection for the quarterback. ... Freshman LG Marcus Jackson will make his first career start Saturday. He surpassed sophomore James Stone on the depth chart based on performance.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Connor Shaw -- Steve Spurrier has been impressed with his signal caller who has led the Gamecocks to two victories since taking over as USC's starter. While he was more inconsistent in the 14-12 victory against MSU, he completed his last eight passes in leading the Gamecocks to the come-from-behind win. With the loss of All-American running back Marcus Lattimore at tailback, he will have to take more ownership of the offense.
DT Kelcy Quarles -- The freshman has gotten consistently better throughout the season which has caught the eye of defensive line coach Brad Lawing, who is inclined to put him in the starting lineup this week against Tennessee.
"Kelcy's done a tremendous job," said Lawing. "He likes playing football, and he plays fast. His fundamentals have gotten better ... I have a production ratio I use, and right now he's one of the four most productive defensive lineman we've got. I told him a week ago, you're reps are going to go up in the game because you're being more productive. He's pushing to be the starter right now."
WR Bruce Ellington -- The 2010 leading scorer of the USC basketball team has become more valuable to the offense since the senior season injury to Lattimore. In addition to playing wide receiver, he will lineup at "Wildcat" quarterback and will probably spend some time at running back as well. He has the big play ability to give the offense the jolt it needs.
QB Justin Worley -- The true freshman set numerous state passing records during his days at Northwestern High in Rock Hill, S.C., but this will be a whole new ballgame for him Saturday in his first career start. The Vols are desperately looking for a spark on offense and are hoping Worley can deliver it. One of the best passing games in the country has been neutralized since Tyler Bray went down with a broken thumb, and Worley is the latest candidate to re-inject some life into it.
WR Da'Rick Rogers -- The sophomore has been the lone focus of opposing defenses ever since Justin Hunter went out for the season with a torn ACL. Rogers has been visibly frustrated during the stretch, particularly against SEC defenders who talk a big game. He's still making plays, though, just not as many. His game will elevate as soon as any other Volunteer receivers start making plays.
LB A.J. Johnson -- The true freshman has 24 tackles in the last two games and leads all SEC freshmen with 45 tackles on the season. He's built like a brick house at 245 pounds and thrives when teams try to run it between the tackles. He hasn't shown any signs of hitting the freshman wall and has been the lone exception when it pertains to second-half struggles.
QB Tyler Bray (thumb, out), LB Herman Lathers (ankle, out).
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