BY: RANDY MOORE
For six games, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders deftly used smoke and mirrors to disguise the fact Tennessee is playing a vanilla attack while its freshman quarterback gets on-the-job training. Last weekend, Alabama saw through the smoke and broke the mirrors, limiting the Vols to 195 total yards and 10 offensive points. Tennessee was lucky to win 17-13.
I'm not sure the Big Orange can count on luck this weekend against South Carolina. Here's why:
1. The game is in Columbia, not Knoxville. The Gamecocks get tremendous fan support at Williams-Brice Stadium, which will have them playing at fever pitch.
2. As if Carolina needed any more motivation, it has lost the last 11 meetings with Tennessee AND still has a shot at winning the SEC East title.
3. Carolina's players are rested, coming off a bye week. ''The open date came at a great time,'' head coach Lou Holtz says. ''It was very profitable.'' Conversely, a banged-up Tennessee squad is playing for the seventh week in a row. The return of guard Cody Douglas would help considerably if he were 100-percent healthy, but he isn't.
4. The Gamecocks have limited five of their seven opponents to 7 points or less. Only Georgia (20 points) and Ole Miss (31) scored multiple touchdowns on them this fall. UT coach Phillip Fulmer suggests the Ole Miss point total was an aberration, noting: ''That's what happens when you turn the ball over and give up big plays.''
5. Demetris Summers. You probably remember him running over, under, around and through Tennessee's defense last year at Neyland Stadium en route to 158 rushing yards. Certainly, UT defensive coordinator John Chavis remembers him. ''I don't think we've tackled him yet,'' the Vol aide grumbled earlier this week.
6. Troy Williamson. You may hear that name a lot Saturday. He's a 6-2, 200-pound Gamecock receiver with sprinter speed, as evidenced by his eye-popping 25 yards-per-catch average (26 catches for 650 yards). He has six touchdown grabs, which is more than Tennessee's top three wideouts -- Tony Brown, Jayson Swain and Chris Hannon -- combined. ''He's probably the fastest guy we'll see,'' Chavis said. ''They have four or five receivers with tremendous speed but I think he's in a league of his own when it comes to speed.'' Even Holtz, the prince of poor-mouthing, concedes that Williamson ''for two years ran fast and played football. Now he's become a receiver.''
7. Now that Holtz is overseeing the attack unit, the Gamecocks are playing more smash-mouth football than before. That will test a Vol front four whose best player (Jesse Mahelona) is playing on a gimpy knee. ''The biggest thing is, they've added the option back,'' Chavis said. ''They're being more physical, even though they've always tried to do that. Some of the run game has made them a more physical offensive line. As far as getting down, screwing their cleats in the ground and coming off on someone ... they're doing that more than they have in the past. Then you get the play-action pass going off that.''
8. Tennessee's offense has gone south the past two weeks. Ainge completed just 24 of 52 passes for 363 yards during that time with more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). He got no help from his ground attack last weekend, as the Vols managed just 53 yards on 34 rushes -- less than 2.0 per carry. After seven games, opponents have seen enough of Ainge and the limited repertoire he has at his disposal to know more what to expect from the Vols. ''We don't go into a game with the same number of passes that we used to,'' offensive coordinator Randy Sanders conceded. Another problem has been Tennessee's recent lack of productivity on first down. Against Bama, the Vols faced a lot of second-and-10, second-and-9, second-and-8 situations. If they are similarly unproductive on first down against Carolina's stingy defense, the Vols could be in deep trouble. ''We're not being as productive on first down and we're not being real productive on second down,'' Sanders said. ''We're having a lot of third-and-longs. Of our 11 third-downs last week, I think six of them were seven yards or more. When you're playing with a young quarterback and get third-and-long against a good defense, they're hard to convert.''
9. The last four meetings between the Vols and Gamecocks have been decided by scores of 17-14, 17-10, 18-10 and 23-20 in overtime ... UT winning each time. The law of averages suggests the ball is going to bounce Carolina's way in one of these close encounters, and that time just might arrive this Saturday in Columbia.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
By: JEFFERY STEWART
Tennessee faces a giant task playing South Carolina in Columbia on Saturday. The Gamecocks are rested, Lou's coaching crew is fully prepared and the fans are hungry for a breakthrough victory over the Vols after 11 straight setbacks in this one-sided series. Gee, when you think about it that's an entire season's worth of defeats.
There are plenty of reasons UT should be concerned about S.C., most of which my capable colleague has pointed out. Troy Williamson is as good as any receiver the Vols have seen this year and it remains to be seen if UT's can find an adequate match at the corner. Demetris Summers isn't as mature or as powerful as Auburn's tandem of Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown but he's an outstanding cutback runner with nimble feet, great speed and superb vision.
Former receiver Syvelle Newton has taken over at quarterback and given the Gamecocks an upgrade in their passing game. He's also a threat to run, as is Dondrial Pinkins, who was the starter last season and to begin the 2004 campaign. Running quarterbacks present problems to attacking defenses and John Chavis likes to launch his troops in waves.
The last wins by UT over South Carolina were by a combined 21 points, but the overall average during the Vols 11-year run is Tennessee 32, S.C. 13. Included among those victories were such blowouts as 55-3 in 1993, 56-21 in 1995, 49-14 in 1998 and 30-7 in 1999. Don't expect those type of scores this year, but there is historical evidence to suggest the Vols will post a solid win that parallel this year's meeting.
I enter into evidence the 1994 season in which UT stumbled from the gate 1-3 but finished 8-4. The win that got Tennessee to the .500 mark that season was game No. 8 against South Carolina which Tennessee won 31-22. In 2000, the Vols started off 2-3 before finishing 8-4. They didn't get over the .500 mark that season until game No. 7 vs. South Carolina, as the Vols scored a narrow 17-14 triumph over the Gamecocks. These comparisons carry weight because both of those victories were critical to the Vols and both came in Columbia with Tennessee led by a true freshman quarterback.
More recently, there was the 2002 contest which fell between games against Alabama and Miami. The Vols were down 13 starters from the beginning of the year and were teetering on the brink of a collapse after losing consecutive contests to Georgia and Alabama and with the Canes coming to town next. A loss at Columbia would result in four straight defeats. This appeared to be the perfect time for the Gamecocks to end UT's winning streak which stretched back to 1992, especially with Clausen injured. However, UT turned to its running game and defense. Cedric Houston ran for 108 yards and the Vols scored an 18-10 victory.
It seems when Tennessee is most vulnerable and most in need of a win it manages to get one against the Gamecocks — particularly in Columbia. Of course, Phillip Fulmer's squad has become a group of road warriors in recent years with two victories in Gainesville, one in Miami and this season's triumph in Georgia.
Likewise, South Carolina has been far from unbeatable at Willams-Brice Stadium. In fact, since 1997 the Gamecocks are only 7-14 as a home underdog and only 10-12-1 as a home favorite. Both of S.C.'s losses this season were at Columbia once as a favorite (against Ole Miss) and once as an underdog (against Georgia). In 2003, the Gamecocks lost at home to Kentucky and only beat Louisiana Lafayette by a score of 14-7.
South Carolina is entering this game well rested and with a lot incentive, but Tennessee has just as much incentive and more momentum with consecutive wins over Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama. Plus, this isn't a game that Tennessee is likely to overlook since South Carolina appears to be the toughest SEC game left on the schedule.
And just because Tennessee hasn't scored many points in its last three games, doesn't mean that it can't score points when it needs to. There's every indication the Vols can score what they need to prevail as long as they don't self-destruct with turnovers.
In final analysis, this is a huge game for the Vols and that's the primary reason I believe they'll come up big.