South Carolina vs Tennessee preview

The South Carolina Gamecocks travel to Knoxville this Saturday to face the Tennessee Volunteers. Both teams are coming off a win and sit at 3-2. The main difference so far is the home team is 1-1 in conference play following a 62-24 demolishing of Missouri. The visitors are searching for their first SEC victory after losing to Kentucky and Georgia. Based on how these teams have performed thus far, the most intriguing match-up will be the Volunteer offense versus the Gamecock defense. Each of these units have been performing at a high level in 2021.

Both programs are in year one of a new regime. Shane Beamer is in his first gig as the head man at South Carolina, while Josh Heupel left Central Florida to take over at Tennessee. That makes this match-up even more crucial as they each try to build a positive foundation for their programs. For two teams that are trying to establish themselves in a higher position in the SEC East pecking order, Saturday’s contest looms large.

Tennessee is coming off is best performance in quite some time, racking up 450 yards rushing and 62 points on the road. Missouri’s defense didn’t offer any resistance to what the Volunteers were doing. During the first half, it seemed like every time you blinked Heupel’s offense had scored again. Hendon Hooker has been excellent at quarterback for the Vols. The transfer from Virginia Tech is showcasing his skills as a dual threat, with efficient passing and timely runs. His command of the offense has been impressive. He as 10 touchdowns and just one interception on the season. Velus Jones Jr. has emerged as his favorite target.
Hooker will need to continue to take care of the ball against the Gamecock defense. They lead the SEC in turnovers forced and have only allowed one opponent to score more than 17 points. South Carolina is led by their defensive front, namely Kingsley Enagbare. He is playing as well as any edge rusher in the nation. Jaylan Foster leads the ball hawking secondary. The senior safety has four interceptions already. The Gamecocks will need to shore up a few things against the run for this match-up. Tennessee has multiple explosive backs to get the ball too, plus the threat of Hooker escaping the pocket. With a struggling offense, the onus will be on the defense in garnet and black to make some big plays on the road. Harassing the quarterback into mistake is their best bet, but Hooker hasn’t been making too many mistakes this season.

On the other side of the ball, neither team has done enough to establish themselves. While the Vols defensive numbers looks solid, they have not been as good in the three games against power five opponents. Take away the two blowouts of Bowling Green and Tennessee Tech, and this defense is giving up 34 points a game. The Gamecocks will try to take advantage of any weaknesses they can find, but their have not exactly lit up the scoreboard in 2021. Aside from an opening week blowout of Eastern Illinois, coach Beamer’s team has not scored more than 23 points in a game.

South Carolina has struggled with consistency on offense. There have been some bright spots like the development of Josh Vann, but overall, the results aren’t good enough. While there were signs of improvement over the past few weeks, penalties and negative plays are still an issue. The offensive line struggles are also glaring at times. The unit seems to be doing slightly better. However, they still have the tendency to miss an assignment and allow a defender a free path to the backfield. Those negative plays, along with the penalties, are hampering this unit’s growth. This team needs to clean those things up and find more ways to finish drives with touchdowns. If they can’t, then Tennessee could run away from them. Getting the run game going is also a big key. Kevin Harris has not had the same success he enjoyed a season ago.

Each of these teams views this as a winnable game that will be painful to lose. These two programs are fighting to build under new leadership and find their position in the SEC east. A win provides momentum and validation for the work being done. Tennessee will look to play fast and tire out an aggressive South Carolina defense. The Gamecocks will need to sustain drives and convert them into points. They also need to improve on third downs on both sides of the ball. If they can’t, and the Vols start piling up the play count, it could be a long day in Knoxville.

Written by David Knight

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