Matchup: South Carolina

This week, Tennessee takes on South Carolina in Columbia. This is our take on this Vols vs Gamecocks matchup. After Tennessee's 5-1 start, I predicted the Vols would not run the table in the second half of the season because of special teams and run defense concerns.

Those two areas were solid in a victory over Alabama. But a third worry has arisen: Running the football.

Tennessee has had three games in which it failed to reach 100 rushing yards – Florida (minus-11), Air Force (79) and Alabama (57). UT running backs averaged just 3.0 yards on 18 carries against the Crimson Tide.

If the Vols don't run more effectively against South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas, they will lose at least one, if not two, of those games.

And with the speedy LaMarcus Coker (6.3 yards per carry) out with a sprained knee, that leaves Arian Foster (3.7) and Montario Hardesty (3.3) to carry the load. Foster is finally healthy after suffering a sprained ankle against Air Force. Hardesty hasn't fully recovered from torn ACL surgery a year ago this month.

Tim Irwin, a former star offensive tackle for Tennessee and the Minnesota Vikings, said much of the run-game problems rest with the offensive lineman.

``The offensive line is not quick enough,'' Irwin said. ``They don't pull well. They don't trap well. They don't screen block well.

``We've been, for years, pushers and shovers. Look at the Denver Broncos' offensive line. We've got to get a more athletic line.''

Offensive line coach Greg Adkins doesn't agree with Irwin's assessment. He said the weight lost by the linemen during the offseason has made them more mobile and athletic.

``We're definitely better in the perimeter game,'' Adkins said. ``We're definitely better in space. We've been able to adjust to movements you see in this league a little bit better. I'm happy with what we did there.''

Adkins said he thinks the Vols are better at screen blocking.

``We're not perfect, but we're better than we were,'' Adkins said.

The Vols' line must prove athletic to have success against a South Carolina defense that is yielding 146.7 rushing yards per game.

Alabama shut down UT's run game by playing man coverage at cornerback and stacking eight in the box. Carolina's Fred Bennett is a lock-down corner, but UT should be able to attack Carlos Thomas and Captain Munnerlyn at the other corner.

The game will be a matchup of the SEC's best passing team against the No. 2 pass defense. The Gamecocks allow only 147.4 passing yards per game and an SEC-low 46.5 percent completion rate. They have nine interceptions against four TD passes allowed.

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of UT and South Carolina.

Game #: 1124
Site: Columbia
Date: Oct. 28
Conference: SECE
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Gamecocks - Spurrier


Vols

Gamecocks
OLCOMMENTSOL

The Gamecocks rank sixth in the SEC in rushing (139.1) and have allowed 18 sacks. UT is averaging only 119.6 rushing yards – 81st in the nation – but has allowed just five sacks in seven games.

QB'sCOMMENTSQB's

Syvelle Newton has bounced from quarterback to receiver to running back, back to quarterback. He is the most mobile quarterback Steve Spurrier has had, and he's become an accurate passer. He ranks second in the SEC in passing efficiency – 63.2 percent, 1,010 yards -- although some of his stats were padded against weak opponents. Erik Ainge's three interceptions against Alabama dropped him from second to fourth in the SEC. But he still has 1,959 passing yards and he's on pace to throw for more than 3,600 yards; the UT single-season record is 3,819 by Peyton Manning.

RB'sCOMMENTSRB's

Cory Boyd (438 yards) has replaced Mike Davis (205) as the top rusher with a 113-yard effort against Vanderbilt. Without Coker, UT's best home run threat, Foster and Hardesty must improve on their combined per carry average of 3.5 yards.

WR'sCOMMENTSWR's

Sidney Rice might be the best wideout in the SEC, but his numbers (33 for 508) are down from a year ago. Spurrier said it's not because defenses are throwing gimmicks at Rice. Kenny McKinley (22 catches) is the No. 2 guy. UT's Robert Meachem is having a terrific season (40 for 762). No. 2 receiver Jayson Swain (high ankle sprain) might not play. Bret Smith had career highs for catches (seven) and yards (95) against Alabama. Lucas Taylor and Josh Briscoe must step up in Swain's absence.


Vols

Gamecocks
DLCOMMENTSDL

Casper Brinkley was named SEC defensive lineman of the week for his two-sack effort against Vanderbilt. He has 6.5 tackle for loss. Stanley Doughty (6-foot, 331) is a run stopper. UT's defensive ends have combined for six of UT's 14 sacks, getting good pressure against Alabama. Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds are emerging. Tackle Turk McBride is solid.

LB'sCOMMENTSLB's

Jasper Brinkley was so good in the spring, Spurrier told him to quick hitting so hard. Brinkley has a team-high 51 tackles, 6.5 behind the line. UT's Jerod Mayo, named SEC Defensive player of the week after a 12-tackle effort against Alabama, is a budding star. Marvin Mitchell ranks third in the SEC in tackles.

DB'sCOMMENTSDB's

Fred Bennett is an All-SEC caliber corner for the SEC's No. 2 pass defense. UT held Bama's John Parker Wilson to 13 of 29 passing for 158 yards – his season low for percentage and yards. Jonathan Hefney has three interceptions. Jonathan Wade leads the SEC in pass deflections.

S. TeamsCOMMENTSS. Teams

Ryan Succop is having an outstanding season -- 44.4 yards per punt and nine of 10 on field goal attempts. In returns, Carlos Thomas averages 23.8 on kicks and McKinley 7.9 on punts. Britton Colquitt would lead the SEC in punting (46.9) if he had enough attempts. James Wilhoit has made 18 of his last 20 field goal tries. Hefney has given UT a spark on punt returns (13.9).


Vols

Gamecocks
INTANGIBLES

Vols will seek revenge for last year's 16-15 home loss in which Peyton Manning's No. 16 was retired.

PREDICTION

Tennessee 30, South Carolina 20.


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