South Carolina can now turn its attention to Tennessee, a team that has struggled this season and also struggled to beat the Gamecocks in recent years. In this Daily 5, we take a look at the Volunteers (3-4, 0-4) and the storylines entering Saturday’s showdown of Eastern Division teams.
It was announced prior to the game against Alabama that Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley would coach from the sideline on a stool because of an injured hip that required surgery prior to the loss against Mississippi State. Dooley, however, was not Stool-ey and stayed on both feet throughout the entire game against the Crimson Tide. He is coaching a team that is limping, at best, through the SEC schedule. The Vols have lost by a touchdown or more in every one of their SEC games this season with an average margin of defeat of over 16 points. Dating back to last season, Tennessee has lost five straight SEC games and 11 of the last 12. During his four years with the Vols since coming over from Louisiana Tech, Dooley is 14-18 and 4-16 in the Southeastern Conference. After missing a bowl game last year, the Vols have to win three of their last five games - all of which are against SEC teams - to be bowl eligible.
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray is one of the top passing quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. He is, however, known to turn the ball over, which puts him into the “gunslinger” category when it comes to quarterbacks. He averages 273 passing yards per game and completes just under 60 percent of his passes. He has also thrown nine interceptions this season with six of those coming in the last three games. Against SEC competition, he has six touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Tennessee does have the 28th-ranked passing offense nationally and are 37th in points scored averaging 34.4 points per game. While Bray was able to rattle off four straight victories in his first four games as a starter in 2010, his best wins against major conference competiton the last two years have come against Vanderbilt and NC State.
Stopping the Gamecocks
South Carolina isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut right now but Tennessee has had trouble stopping everyone. Every FBS team that the Vols have played this season has scored at least three touchdowns. Tennessee, led by first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, is last in the SEC in scoring defense (33.3 ppg) and total defense (445.4 ypg), 13th in pass defense (258.9 ypg) and 12th in rushing defense (186.6 ypg) out of 14 teams. The Vols run a 3-4 defensive scheme, which the Gamecocks have had great success against in recent seasons. While the Gamecocks haven’t been a great offensive team the last two games, the Vols may just be the recipe that South Carolina needs to get back on track.
The Vols haven’t been a great team this season but they do have some other weapons aside from just Bray to watch out for. Wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson are two of the top players at their position in the conference. Hunter, a grizzled, three-year veteran, has 39 catches for 567 yards with four touchdowns. He’s played an integral role since his freshman season in which he caught seven touchdown passes. Patterson, a junior college transfer, has 24 catches for 340 yards and three scores. Top running back Rajion Neal, who has 112 carries for 500 yards and five touchdowns, will play this weekend but he’s not 100 percent with a knee injury. On the defensive side of the football, linebacker A.J. Johnson leads the team in total tackles with 77, which includes 3.5 tackles for a loss. Safety Byron Moore has a team-high four interceptions and six more passes defended. Defensive end Darrington Sentimore leads the team with 4.0 sacks and an additional tackle for a loss, which, all tolled, adds up to 36 yards lost.
While Tennessee holds a 6-22-2 mark all-time against South Carolina, it is the Gamecocks that have enjoyed a recent run of success. South Carolina has won the last two games and three of the last four in the SEC East rivalry. The series has been very competitive as the average margin of victory since the 2000 season is nine points. South Carolina has bucked that trend recently with an average margin of victory of in its last three wins of 15.3 points. The streak of 11 straight games with a win against SEC East opponents was snapped last week by Florida but with a win Saturday, the Gamecocks will be 8-1 against the Big 3 in the SEC over the last three seasons.
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