My pick: UT 23, South Carolina 7

You don't beat South Carolina with haymakers. You beat the Gamecocks with jabs. Thus, patience will be the key for Tennessee's offense in Saturday night's game at Neyland Stadium.

Lou Holtz's team allows just 143 passing yards per game, a number which ranks first in the Southeastern Conference and ninth nationally. This success is built around a very simple formula: Don't give up anything cheap.

Whereas Tennessee's defense attacks opponents in hopes of making a big play -- and at the risk of ALLOWING a big play -- Carolina's defensive strategy is to give up the nickel and dime stuff but protect against the big payoff.

''Our defense will get up in your face and challenge you -- try to make it hard to complete every pass -- but give you some opportunities to throw it over their head,'' Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. ''But they (Gamecocks) are not about getting in your face. They're sitting back and making you throw it underneath, making you execute over and over. From their perspective, they hope to come up and tackle you for a five- or six-yard gain.''

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that two five-yard gains equals a first down, and eight first downs equals a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. The problem is, most opponents can't execute well enough to sustain a 16-play drive. They'll throw an interception. Or lose a fumble. Or sustain a costly penalty. Or get greedy and gamble on making a spectacular play.

South Carolina's low-risk defensive scheme counts on this. Basically, it dares an opposing offense to operate in mistake-free fashion.

''Against some teams you can have 20 bad plays and five good ones and score 35 points,'' Sanders said. ''Against a team like South Carolina, if you do that you're not going to have much success because your big plays are going to turn out to be 20- to 25-yarders, not 50-yarders.''

Making Carolina's pass defense even better is the fact it features some very talented and experienced defensive backs.

''Their secondary's good,'' Sanders said. ''It's amazing how many names are there that it seems like we've been seeing for three or four years -- either starting or backing up. They have some experience, and the corners are good players.

''Plus, they play a lot of people. We've played against three of their safeties and the fourth one has played quite a bit in their first four games. It looks like they're kind of interchangeable as far as free safety and strong safety based on what they're doing.''

Although South Carolina's scheme forces an opponent to settle for small gains, the Vols can't let this lull them into a conservative gameplan. Predictability can be a disaster.

''You have to try to keep the team off-balance,'' Sanders said. ''You have to try to run from some passing sets and throw from some running sets to be as balanced as you can. That's where the patience comes in -- knowing they're doing everything they can to make you throw it in front of them.''

Thanks to the emergence of James Banks, Jayson Swain and Mark Jones as quality receivers, Tennessee's short passing game is much improved this year. Thus, the Vols should be able to nickel and dime their way into scoring position a few times. South Carolina's offense relies heavily on the run, and UT defensive coordinator John Chavis has a great track record for stopping run-oriented opponents. That means we can look for a relatively low-scoring game.

My pick: Tennessee 23, South Carolina 7.


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