Devil's Advocate

Welcome to Devil's Advocate — Inside Tennessee's version of point/counterpoint — where each week analysts Randy Moore and Jeffery Stewart take opposite sides of the field to make their case for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.

WHAT PLANET IS THIS?

By: Randy Moore

Surely, I must've fallen asleep and awakened in aparallel universe. How else could I make any sense of this weekend's Tennessee-South Carolina football game?

Volunteer coach Phillip "Pound the rock" Fulmer is coming off a game in which his team threw the ball 46 times. Gamecocks coach Steve "Cock-n-Fire" Spurrier is coming off a game in which his team ran the ball 39 times.

I used to drive a Saturn. Now I wonder if I've been abducted to Saturn.

Oh, well, strange things happen in college football, which is why Tennessee fans shouldn't get too confident about Saturday night's showdown in Columbia. The Vols are favored by five points but there are plenty of reasons to pick the Gamecocks to win.

For instance:

Carolina enjoys a tremendous home-field advantage in Columbia. This will be Tennessee's first visit there during the Steve Spurrier era, so Gamecock fans are sure to be at their loudest.

Carolina has a mobile quarterback in Syvelle Newton. Vol fans know all too well how much trouble mobile QBs such as Matt   Jones of Arkansas, Jason Campbell of Auburn, D.J. Shockley of Georgia and Shaun Carney of Air Force have given UT in recent years.

After a slow start, Carolina's offense has picked up steam in recent weeks. The Gamecocks hung 31 points on a pretty good Vanderbilt defense last weekend in Nashville.

Carolina's defense is limiting foes to 147 passing yards and 14 points per game. In addition, opponents are completing just 46.5 percent of their passes. If you think the Vols are going to throw for 300-plus yards - as they did against Air Force, Memphis and Alabama - think again.

Finally, there is the Spurrier Factor. He is 8-3 in head-to-head match-ups with Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. Last year, with one good offensive player (wideout Sidney Rice) and two good defensive players (cornerback Jonathan Joseph, safety Ko Simpson) Spurrier beat a more talented Tennessee team 16-15 on its home field.

There are plenty of reasons to expect South Carolina to beat Tennessee again this Saturday night in Columbia. You don't have to visit a parallel universe to realize that.

ROAD READY By: Jeffery Stewart My esteemed colleague has adeptly crafted a convincing argument. And he didn't even mention that Syvelle Newton is second in the conference in passing efficiency (159.5). Erik Ainge is No. 4 with a rating of 157.0. He uses his mobility to buy time and keep defenses honest.

If nothing's open he'll dash for positive yards to keep the Gamecocks in manageable down-and-distance situations. In turn that allows Steve Spurriers' charges to control the ball and clock. Trying to speed them up is like playing on the infield grass in baseball; it leaves a lot openings and the potential to pop big plays.

It's an offense that creates conditions under which Spurrier thrives with his ability to isolate and exploit soft spots in the defense. It's an offense that can wage a war of attrition and wear a defense down, especially with the amount of misdirection the Ol' Ball Coach will throw into the game plan.

It's true South Carolina has a great receiver in Sidney Rice and a solid pass defense that has allowed only 73 completions in seven games. The Gamecocks have a home crowd that is hungry for a victory over the Vols and is coming in with momentum and motivation. (S.C. can moved past UT into second place in the SEC East standings with a win.)

I could go on, but I'm supposed to be making a case for Tennessee. Well, to a degree, I already have because these type of perceived advantages have existed often during Phillip Fulmer's highly successful tenure on The Hill he his teams have defied reason on the road.

Permit me to stroll down memory lane:

• 2005: Tennessee goes to Baton Rogue as a six-point underdog, one week after losing to six-point favorite Florida in Ganesville, 16-7. The Vols promptly fell behind the Tigers 21-0 in the first half only to come back and capture a 30-27 victory in overtime.

• 2004: One week after being pasted at home by two-point underdog Auburn (34-10), the Vols went into Athens as 12-point underdogs and knocked off the Bulldogs for the first time since 1999.

• 2003: One week after coasting to an uninspiring 23-6 win over 24-point underdog Duke, Tennessee traveled to Miami as a 12-point underdog and knocked off the Canes, 10-6.

• 2002: One week after two-point favorite UT was beaten at home by Alabama 34-14, it went to Columbia and beat South Carolina 18-10 in a game rated a toss-up.

• 2001: Tennessee's only regular season loss was at home to 12-point underdog Georgia. The Vols finished the campaign with a 34-32 victory over 17-point favorite Florida.

Nothing about those victories made sense when view in context. Several fall into the realm of remarkable upsets. And yet they have become routine over the years. Whether it's from a sharper focus or an us-against-them feeling, Fulmer's teams are road tested and truly tough.

Beyond mystery there's history. The Vols haven't lost to the Gamecocks in Columbia since 1992. Before that it was 1903, and UT almost always plays the Gamecocks better in South Carolina than it does in Knoxville. Example: In 2003, despite being 16-point favorites, the Vols needed overtime to defeat S.C. 23-20. In 2004, they traveled to Columbia as one-point underdogs and scored a 43-29 triumph.

There are also tactical reasons to believe the Vols will prevail in this contest. First Tennessee's speed on defense will enable the Vols to force Newton to one side of the field and reduce his room to maneuver. It's like a boxer cutting off the ring. Forcing Newton to his left, while guarding against a reversal of field, could also produce errant throws and reduce the space UT's DBs have to cover.

Jonathan Wade gives the Vols a good match-up with Rice, allowing Chavis to allocate another defender to pressure Newton. Expect The Chief to mix in some zone blitzes and coverages as well.

Undoubtedly, South Carolina's pass defense has posted some good numbers this year. However part of that is because opponents have had success running the ball. The Gamecocks rank No. 9 in the SEC in run defense, giving up 147 yards per game. If they give up that many yards on the ground Saturday, Tennessee will take over the game.

South Carolina upset a more talented Tennessee team last season, but that's when the Vols were 3-3 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Come Saturday in Columbia, Tennessee will rule the roost.


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