Five Keys to Victory against Tennessee

Read inside as's Wes Mitchell takes a look at South Carolina's five keys to victory in Saturday's primetime showdown against the Tennessee Volunteers.

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The Gamecocks have the talent to defeat the Tennessee Volunteers, but for a group that has struggled to play up to its potential at times this year, the first few minutes will be huge. South Carolina is fresh off a bye week and will either come out firing on all cylinders or looking rusty. This could set the tone for the entire contest.

The Tennessee offense has struggled mightily this year, and the Vols are likely looking forward to a hard-fought defensive battle where a turnover here, or big play there, determines the winner. Getting an early lead, would force the Volunteers to change their game plan, and would force the coaching staff to put the game on the young shoulders of sophomore quarterback Nick Stephens. That can only be a good thing for the Gamecocks.

Pick up the blitz

This goes for quarterback Stephen Garcia, the offensive line, running backs and the South Carolina tight ends. LSU tried to give the rest of USC's opponents the blueprint to stymie the Gamecock offense, but rest assured Steve Spurrier and the offensive coaching staff has spent much of the last two weeks figuring out ways to counteract that.

That starts with teaching Garcia how to recognize the blitz better. Once Garcia does that, then it falls on the rest of the offense to follow his lead. With Garcia's big play ability and two weeks to prepare for what the talented Vols' defense will throw at the Gamecocks, the possibility of South Carolina breaking off a few big plays to back off the Tennessee defense is very real.

Limit the turnovers

With a young quarterback and make-shift offensive line for much of the year, the Gamecocks have obviously been very prone to turning the ball over. This could be a key to victory every week, but the fact remains, if South Carolina wants to start beating good teams consistently then they will have to stop giving away possessions. The Gamecocks rank dead last in the conference in turnover margin after turning the ball over 23 times in eight games. Still, South Carolina ranks second in the SEC in first downs. So, cutting the turnovers by just one a game would go a long way towards the offense putting up more points.

Make the pick

It's not every day you see defensive linemen catching footballs shot out of a JUGS machine, but that's exactly what the Gamecocks d-line was doing after practice Thursday. USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said his d-line has had the chance to make game-changing interceptions this year, but hasn't been able to hold on to the football. Johnson also mentions that the Vols haven't turned the ball over in the last four games, despite struggling for much of the year. In a game that will likely be decided by four or five plays here or there, simply holding on to an interception could be the difference.

Find some room

It wouldn't be right to expect a dominating running game from the Gamecocks' pass-happy offense, but to say USC's running game has been awful this year would be an understatement. The Gamecocks managed just 39 yards on 31 carries in their 24-17 loss to LSU two weeks ago, and that doesn't cut it no matter how good the passing game is. USC doesn't need a dominating running game to be effective offensively, just needs enough to keep the opposing defense honest. With two weeks to prepare, the Gamecocks could show some new wrinkles in the running game to try and get their backs in space. This could include some more zone-read type plays with the athletic Garcia, as well as getting the ball to freshman Eric Baker more often.

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