Gamecocks invade Neyland: Tennessee preview
At 7:45 p.m on Saturday October 27, the Gamecocks will look up at a sea of waving orange pom-poms. They will look across a grass football field and see the painted Tennessee logo and the checkerboard patterns in the end zones. The sound will be deafening. And when the Gamecock defense lines up they will stare into the faces of Volunteer offensive linemen, eyes gleaming with malevolence, who average 297 pounds per man and desire nothing more than to satisfy the crowd and bury the Gamecocks.
It takes 90 gallons of paint to draw the lines, the T-logo, and the checkerboard design in the end zones, a feature of Neyland every year since 1989. Between the lines and underneath the blanket of noise, the team that best meets Neyland's Maxims of football will win the game.
Neyland Stadium. The stadium capacity is 102,038.
During 2006, Tennessee averaged 103.7% of capacity in attendance at its football games. The Volunteers have led the SEC in attendance for the last 33 years. There is no doubt that at the beginning of the game, the Volunteer fans will be loud and ready for the Gamecocks.
The crowd is certainly a factor in explaining why Neyland Stadium is in second place (behind Georgia Tech) for the all-time stadium wins (411 games). In 2006, after a blowout loss to the Vols, California quarterback Nate Longshore described his experience at the SEC stadium. "You can't hear anything. You go up and down the line, your wide receivers, your running backs, your tight ends, nobody can hear anything."
Despite an up and down 2007 season, Tennessee (4-3) still is one of only two SEC teams to remain undefeated at home (The other team is LSU). The Volunteer crowd feeds off big plays, and the physical domination of Volunteer players in the football trenches, the line of scrimmage.
Overcoming the Volunteer crowd will be part of the challenge the Gamecocks face in beating Tennessee.
The Volunteers' blowout 35-14 victory over the then number 12 Georgia Bulldogs was an example of how quickly games can get out of hand for visiting teams. That Volunteer victory against a fine Georgia team was one of the most impressive performances of the 2007 college football season. The Volunteers completely dominated the line of scrimmage against the Bulldogs on both offense and defense, accumulating 411 yards of offense including 190 on the ground. The Vols held the Bulldogs to only 243 yards of total offense. But the statistics just give you a taste of it. The crowd fed off big plays and the physically dominating performance in the trenches. The Volunteer players fed off the crowd's excitement.
Neyland Stadium is named after Robert Neyland, a former Tennessee coach who once had an undefeated team that went an entire season pitching shutouts. Like the Confucius of Tennessee, Neyland espoused Maxims of Football, Neyland's Maxims. Tennessee teams still live by the maxims:
1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.
2. Play for and make breaks and when one comes your way SCORE.
3. If at first the game or the breaks go against you, don't let up... put on more steam.
4. Protect our kickers, our quarterback, our lead, and our ball game.
5. Ball, oskie [a term referring to blocking following an interception], cover, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made.
7. Carry the fight to our opponents and keep it there for sixty minutes.
Meeting Neyland's maxims are the secret ingredient that Volunteer teams mix to involve the big Tennessee crowds, promoting wins. Big plays that demonstrate the maxims in action are what the Volunteer crowd loves and what ratchets up its excitement and decibel level.
It is symbiosis, a relationship of mutual benefit or dependence. The crowd. The Volunteer team.
Control Neyland's Maxims and you destroy the dependent relationship between the two entities. And you can bring the big house of Tennessee crashing down.
Neyland's Maxims are not Volunteer property. They are out there on Neyland field for the taking, and the orange paint and Tennesee crowd noise don't make the maxims happen. The players do that. The Gamecocks have just as many players as the Vols. The secret of Neyland's Maxims are out of the closet. They are posted on the Volunteer's official athletic department web site. Now Gamecock players know Neyland's Maxims too, and they will fight for their control.
The 2007 Volunteer team hasn't been able to control Neyland's Maxims in all of their games. In three losses, the Vols have been unable to carry the fight to the opponents. (See Maxims 4 and 7.) California, Florida, and Alabama were the aggressors, and those teams pushed the Volunteers around and made them look slow. In each of those three losses, the Volunteer opponents dictated the fight and pressed the advantage.
Control of Neyland's Maxims is in a large part a matter of winning the battle of the trenches.
The table below shows the Vols' offensive and defensive rushing totals in each of their games. These tables show how the Vols performed in the trenches for each game.
The Vols have a nice passing attack with 6-6 senior quarterback Erik Ainge, but notice that whenever a Vol opponent shuts down the Tennessee rushing game and establishes a reasonable offensive rushing attack, the Vols lose. In other words, the Volunteers fail to control Neyland's Maxims when they lose the war in the trenches.
For the Gamecocks, it is another volatile SEC road venue. A few weeks ago it was Death Valley. Now it is another special place, Neyland. The challenge of going to Neyland, slugging it out with the Tennessee Volunteers, in front of more than 100,000 fans, was one of the reasons why so many good high school players decided to play for this Carolina football team. You cannot beat the atmosphere of SEC road trips.
Winning the fight in the trenches could take the Neyland crowd out of the game. One of the most encouraging aspects of the Gamecocks' 17-6 loss last week to Vanderbilt was the rushing defense. The Commodores gained only 147 yards and averaged just 3.1 yards per rush. If the Gamecock defense can repeat that effort and limit the Volunteers' big plays, the Gamecocks will be half-way to another road victory.
The other half of the formula here is the offensive line. Following the Vanderbilt game last week, Coach Steve Spurrier stated that because of poor pass blocking, the Gamecocks would have to run the ball more often.
Hmmm... The Gamecocks' average of 3.5 yards per rush attempt is currently last in the SEC. The longest running play of the 2007 season is only 29 yards, also last in the Conference. The Gamecock offense averages only 115 yards per game on the ground, a statistic that is just barely ahead of Ole Miss, the rushing offense in the SEC's cellar. The 115 yards per game average is far behind the tenth-best SEC rushing team, Tennessee, which averages 147 yards per game.
There is hope. It was about this point in the 2006 season when the Gamecocks' offensive line jelled. Over the last four games of the 2006 season the Gamecock offense rushed for an average of 171 yards per game. That kind of effort is exactly what is needed against Tennessee on Saturday.
Not only will a good rushing attack open up the passing lanes for Spurrier's Fun and Gun offense, but nothing takes a home crowd out of a game quicker than a good ground-oriented rushing attack. The offensive line must carry the fight to Tennessee and don't let up for sixty minutes. Run the ball. Silence the crowd and win.
On defense, remember Neyland's 6th Maxim. Hawk the ball, oskie, cover, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE.
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