No Jerry Rice, but ...

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer calls him "a great player." Defensive coordinator John Chavis calls him "a big, physical guy that can run."

Here's a hint: The guy they're discussing is a wide receiver named Rice. No, it's not Jerry. The guy who has Fulmer and Chavis buzzing is Sidney Rice, South Carolina's largely underalded but virtually unstoppable pass-catching whiz.

Rice, a 6-foot-4, 191-pound redshirt freshman, probably ranks as the Southeastern Conference's Rookie of the Year. Despite missing one of Carolina's games, he has recorded 34 catches for 555 yards and nine touchdowns to date.

To put those numbers in perspective, consider this: Tennessee's leading receiver, Jayson Swain, has half as many catches (17), 322 fewer yards (233) and nine few TD receptions (0).

No wonder Chavis recently mused, "I'd love to see number 4 on our team catching passes right now." Vol quarterback Rick Clausen undoubtedly feels the same way.

Oh, yeah. In addition to the stats noted above, Rice leads all SEC pass receivers in yards per catch with a 16.3 average.

With Syvelle Newton (27 catches, 297 yards, 2 TDs) sidelined by a torn Achilles tendon, Carolina will be without its No. 2 receiver Saturday night against Tennessee. But Chavis says the Gamecocks still have enough talent at receiver to keep the Vols from focusing too much attention on Rice.

Kris Clark has 12 catches for 161 yards (13.4 per catch) and Kenny McKinley has 12 for 135 (11.2 per catch). The guy who grabs Chavis' attention, though, is Noah Whiteside. He has caught just seven balls all year but is averaging a whopping 18.7 yards per catch.

"Whiteside is coming off an injury he had in the spring but I know he's a great player with great speed," Chavis said. "It looks like he's getting a little better each week. They've got good talent at wideout."

And a coach, Steve Spurrier, who is adept at utilizing it.


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