"It's VERY important," said reserve defensive end Robert Ayers, a Clio native who will be facing his home-state university Saturday evening. "In Coach Spurrier's offense, everything is based on timing."
Vanderbilt – believe it or not – drew up the blueprint for stopping South Carolina last weekend. The Commodores applied a relentless pass rush, resulting in seven sacks and five false starts by Gamecock linemen. Thus disrupted, Carolina managed only a pair of field goals in a 17-6 home-field loss.
Can Tennessee post seven sacks against the Gamecocks this weekend? Not likely. The Vols have just nine sacks to show for their first seven games. Still, Ayers believes in Tennessee's defensive linemen.
"If we come out and play the way we know we can play, nobody can stop us," he said, frowning before adding: "So far this season we haven't really done the things we wanted to do."
South Carolina showed in a 38-23 defeat of Kentucky that its passing game can be pretty potent when the quarterback feels secure in the pocket. Ayers plans to take away that sense of security Saturday night.
"That's my goal going into every game; I want to try and make a difference in the pass-rush game," he said. "I'm pretty sure all of the guys think that, in terms of hitting the quarterback and getting sacks. We need to do a better job. The first part of the season we haven't done the things we set our goals at."
Tennessee's inability to mount a decent pass rush has allowed an inexperienced secondary to be schooled by quality receivers such as Cal's DeSean Jackson, Florida's Percy Harvin and Alabama's DJ Hall. Odds are, South Carolina wideout Kenny McKinley will have a field day this weekend unless Tennessee's pass rushers can pressure the Gamecock passer.
"We've got to get to the quarterback quick," Ayers said. "That's what we've got to do – disrupt his (Spurrier's) passing game. If we don't, we'll have trouble and we'll be leaving our defensive backs out to dry."
Tennessee's defensive backs were "hung out to dry" last weekend at Tuscaloosa. With only occasional pressure from the Vol pass rush, Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson torched the Vols for a career-best 363 passing yards in a 41-17 Tide romp.
Asked if that putrid performance wounded Tennessee's pride, however, Ayers shook his head.
"I wouldn't say we're wounded or anything like that," he said. "We know what opportunities we had that we let slip by. We've got to keep getting better."
Perhaps the Vols will improve enough in practice this week that they can disrupt the timing of Carolina's passing game. Ayers is hopeful but realistic.
"If we prepare good this week and go play, we can beat anybody," he said. "But if we don't go play, we'll have a hard time."