Battle of the also-rans

Phil Fulmer and Steve Spurrier have waged some epic battles through the years, but Saturday won't be one of them.

Unlike the 1990s, when Fulmer's Tennessee Vols and Spurrier's Florida Gators routinely brought top-10 national rankings into their meetings, Saturday's game pits two teams with a combined record of 7-6. Fulmer's Vols are 3-3, while Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks are 4-3. Each team is 2-3 in SEC play.

This much hasn't changed, though: Spurrier still fields an offense that features a sophisticated and challenging passing attack.

"Steve's mark is definitely on the team," Fulmer said this week. "In the passing game, you see a lot of things he likes to do and that you saw when he was at Florida – things like the timing routes, under routes, crossing routes, deep routes and so forth. His mark is there, all right."

The Gamecocks will be without Syvelle Newton, who has played quarterback, tailback and wide receiver this season. Newton suffered a torn Achilles tendon last Saturday againt Vanderbilt. Still, the Cocks have a solid quarterback in Blake Mitchell and a star-quality receiver in Sidney Rice, who caught three TD passes against the Commodores.

"They have a multiple offense with open sets, a decent running game, but big production in passing," Fulmer said. "Quarterback Blake Mitchell is a good player. There are a lot of guys you have to be aware of."

The Gamecocks have struggled defensively but they give opponents a lot of looks, and that can prove problematical.

"It's a variable defense, and you're never sure what you're going to get at a specific time," Fulmer noted. "They have a lot of different kinds of blitzes. We'll have to manage the situation, and, fortunately, we have a veteran group of offensive players to try to get that done correctly."

Although Tennessee couldn't find the end zone in last Saturday's 6-3 loss at Alabama, the Vols' head coach saw progress in the attack unit.

"We moved the ball better," Fulmer said. "We certainly haven't solved all our problems, but we were a physical team, much better at running the ball. We had some success at the screen game, getting the ball out on the perimeter and using the field more productively. Other than turnovers, we did pretty well, but we left some opportunities on the field."


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