The No. 14 South Carolina will travel to Knoxville to take on the unranked Tennessee Volunteers Saturday night. This article takes a look at what the Gamecocks must do well to ensure victory.
1. Control Tauren Poole – Tennessee’s best chance to win this contest is by getting Poole untracked to shorten the game and give themselves the opportunity to win a low scoring game in the fourth quarter. He comes into this game as the SEC’s 10th leading rusher and is fresh off a 70-yard game against Alabama. Ellis Johnson’s defense needs to corral Poole and force Tennessee to beat them with the pass, something they haven’t shown they can do with any consistency since Tyler Braywent out with a broken thumb.
2. Force Tennessee miscues – Carolina comes into this game having forced an SEC best 24 turnovers, and that needs to continue in this game with the Vols starting true freshman quarterback Justin Worley. The Gamecock defensive front needs to continue to be the disruptive force they’ve been most of this season and not allow Worley to settle into any kind of rhythm or reach a comfort level in the pocket.
3. Push up front, protect Shaw – The Gamecock offensive line has struggled to get any kind of push up front in recent games, and that can’t continue if they want to win the SEC East. True freshman Brandon Wilds steps into the large shoes of injured running back Marcus Lattimore, and his linemen need to give him some room to operate. If the offense can’t establish any kind of running game it’s going to be difficult for South Carolina to win this game. They also must protect quarterback Connor Shaw and prevent the Vols from generating a consistent pass rush off the edges.
4. Connect down the field – The Tennessee secondary has allowed a large number of big pass plays down the field this season, and Steve Spurrier loves nothing more than the long ball. The Vols are allowing an SEC worst 7.6 yards per pass play. South Carolina can’t force the issue like did at times in the season opener against East Carolina, but there should be multiple opportunities for game-changing pass plays to receivers like Alshon Jeffery and Damiere Byrd.
5. Protect the football – Two years ago, South Carolina fumbled on their first two possessions, got behind and never recovered. They can’t afford a repeat performance on that front and have to be judicious with the football throughout this game. Shaw has to be smart on where and when he throws the ball and Wilds must do a good job of holding on to it.
Final analysis – Since 2001, almost every game between these two teams played in Knoxville has been decided by a touchdown or less with several of them being a field goal or less. This game has all the makings of another low scoring, fourth quarter game with South Carolina adjusting to life after Lattimore and the Vols breaking in a true freshman quarterback. The Gamecocks have shown they can win close games this season, and I will forecast that trend to continue.
Prediction – South Carolina 20 Tennessee 13