South Carolina comes into this contest after an off week and with a chance to move into a tie for first in the SEC East Division should it win and Florida upset Georgia. Currently sitting second at 3-1 in league play, the Gamecocks only loss was a 13-7 setback to undefeated Georgia. South Carolina put together a four-game winning streak after that loss, including an impressive 16-12 victory over Kentucky in Lexington. However the Gamecocks lost an early lead and were routed 38-14 by LSU in Baton Rogue in their last outing. S.C.'s only off week this season should assure the team is well rested and thoroughly prepared. The Gamecocks also have plenty of incentive with Tennessee currently holding a nine-game winning streak in the series. South Carolina's last win over the Vols was Oct. 31, 1992 when Johnny Majors was UT's head coach. Coach Phillip Fulmer is 9-0 against the Gamecocks, but wins have been much tougher to come by since the arrival of Lou Holtz in Columbia four years ago. Tennessee only scored 17 points in each of its last two victories over South Carolina and neither of those teams had the problems that is currently besetting the Vols offense. UT has lost two straight games knocking it out of the SEC race and denying Fulmer his 100th career victory. A third straight setback would be the first during his ten-year tenure with Tennessee. This game is big to both programs for different reasons. By the way, a win would boost South Carolina's all-time record to within one game of .500. The Gamecocks current mark stands at 489-491-44.
KEY MATCH UP:
While Tennessee's injury-plagued defense has, for the most part, held its own this season, the offense has struggled to develop a personality and consistency. There's not a single strength the Vols can rely on to move the football, especially when wide receiver Kelley Washington is sidelined with an assortment of injuries. His availability this week remains in doubt, but after not practicing all week or playing last week it would be surprising to see him in the lineup. At least the Vols should be better prepared for his absence than they were against Alabama, but that doesn't mean they will be any more effective moving the ball or scoring points. Casey Clausen is still battling a fractured collar bone that has impacted his arm strength and limited the passes he can throw effectively. South Carolina's defense is the strength of its program as evidenced by the Gamecocks performances against Georgia, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kentucky which scored a mere 49 points collectively for an average of just over 12 points per contest. South Carolina will prove to be a tough match up for Tennessee. The Gamecocks run a 3-3 defensive scheme with a pair of rovers supporting against the rush and blitzing against the pass or dropping in coverage to create a dime package. These type of fronts have presented the Vols a lot of problems this season as it often requires adjustments at the line of scrimmage to successfully block and counter.
Tennessee hasn't appeared to respond emotionally to any challenge it has faced this season, while South Carolina overcame a 1-2 start to build a 5-3 record. Lou Holtz has an excellent track record when given at least two weeks to prepare for an opponent. Add that to a considerable home-field advantage as well as the Vols nine-game winning streak and this category looks like a slam dunk for the Gamecocks. Tennessee's physical contest with Alabama last week won't pay any dividends this week, either.
Tennessee's challenge won't just be on the offensive side of the football when it takes on South Carolina. The Gamecocks quarterback Corey Jenkins is his team's leading passer and rusher. Jenkins has gained 574 net rushing yards this season and scored four touchdowns, while passing for 1210 yards and seven TDs. Andrew Pinnock is a north-south runner with some inside pop. But with wide receiver/return specialist Ryan Brewer expected to miss this game with an ankle injury, the Vols should be able to limit South Carolina's passing attack and get more defenders up in run support. Put it all together and this shapes up a defensive struggle in which turnovers and special teams could easily sway the final outcome. The Vols coverage units have performed very well as has punter Dustin Colquitt. Alex Walls appeared to be hitting the ball solidly in his return to active duty verses Alabama and Mark Jones took a kickoff the distance to keep the Vols close. When Corey Larkins doesn't fumble, he's been an excellent return specialist. So Tennessee could well hold a special team's edge in this contest, although it has failed to take care of the football or avoid crippling penalties. Tennessee isn't a big-play offense and can't overcome bad down and distance situations needed to maintain long drives. However it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vols enjoy some success on the ground with dives and quick hitters, and an effective rushing attack would go a long way to opening the passing game. There1s a good chance the Vols will find their way out of their current doldrums, but not this week or next.
South Carolina 16, Tennessee 13.