May 25, 2024

Five things Tennessee needs to do to beat South Carolina

Tennessee and South Carolina have played four straight games that have been decided in crunch time. What to the Vols need to do to ensure a fourth-straight win over the Gamecocks?

Tennessee quarterback #11 Joshua Dobbs cuts back across the field on a long run against Ohio on Sept. 17, 2016. Photo by Sumner Gilliam.

Tennessee travels to South Carolina this week with hopes to stop a two game losing streak while the Gamecocks are looking for bright spots behind a true freshman quarterback and first-year head coach. Here are five things the Vols need to do in order to get back to their winning ways.

1. Don’t overlook Jake Bentley

South Carolina’s quarterback carousel seems to have finally stopped with the emergence of true freshman Jake Bentley. The Gamecocks had been going back and forth between senior Perry Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain, but Will Muschamp decided neither really had what it took to make his first season in Columbia a success.

Bentley got the start against UMass and appears to be the answer for the rest of the season. Although he graduated from high school in only three years and is one of the youngest — if not the youngest — players on the Gamecock roster, Bentley possesses leadership qualities that have impressed many of his teammates. His ability to throw the deep ball was lacking from South Carolina’s offense before his start Saturday. Of his 26 pass attempts against UMass, five of them went at least 25 yards, which is not only bold on the coaching staff’s part, but also very impressive for such a young player in the SEC.

His receivers weren’t necessarily torching the Minutemen’s secondary. Bentley threw two touchdowns (both passes of over 25 yards) to players in one-on-one coverage, putting the ball right where he needed to for each score. South Carolina now has a game-changing offensive factor they have been looking for all season — Tennessee can’t afford to ignore that.

2. Keep injuries to a minimum

Although Tennessee has managed a 5-2 record with a tremendous amount of injuries, the Vols cannot afford to lose any more key players this late in the season. Three of Tennessee’s four captains will be out for the South Carolina game.

Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, defensive back Cameron Sutton is still out with a fractured ankle and running back Alvin Kamara will not play with multiple knee injuries. However, this only scratches the surface of the injury bug Tennessee has been facing so far. While many players are expected to be back this week, the back half of the schedule could prove more of a challenge than many originally thought if the Vols lose any more starters.

3. Give Dobbs more designed runs

Tennessee’s offense just seems to play better when Dobbs is running the ball effectively. Along with that, South Carolina’s run defense is one of the worst in all of FBS. Over the course of the season (excluding the Alabama game, in which he had 7 carries for -31 yards), Dobbs is averaging just under four yards per carry. To put that into perspective — also excluding the Alabama game — running back Jalen Hurd is averaging just over four yards per carry.

Once defenses have to start honoring Dobbs’ running ability, the passing game can open up, as was seen in the Florida game. South Carolina gives up more than 210 rushing yards per game. Even though Tennessee will be without Alvin Kamara in the backfield, the trio of Dobbs, Hurd and John Kelly should be able to pound the ball all day long.

4. Avoid a close game in the fourth quarter

Since 2012, each Tennessee-South Carolina game has been must-see television. The past four games between the two teams have all been decided by three points or less, and the game’s decisive moments have come in the final minute or overtime.

In 2012, Tyler Bray threw an interception with 36 seconds left to give South Carolina the victory. In 2013, Tennessee won on a Michael Palardy field goal as time expired.

In 2014, the Vols found themselves down two touchdowns with less than two minutes left in the game, but managed to tie it up and send the game to overtime. After an Aaron Medley go-ahead field goal, Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett got back-to-back sacks to move the Gamecocks out of field goal position and seal the win. Last year, a Gamecocks’ promising final drive, but Malik Foreman forced a fumble that was recovered by Tennessee.

The Vols have had some close calls this season, and South Carolina seems to always play one of its best games against Tennessee. The Vols have to keep the game out of reach of this newly energized Gamecock team.

5. Let Barnett increase his NFL draft (and possibly Heisman) stock

As mentioned in point No. 1, South Carolina will start a true freshman at quarterback against the Vols. In only his second collegiate game, Bentley has to go up against one of the best defensive ends in the country in Derek Barnett. Barnett has put up incredible numbers so far in 2016, to the surprise of few.

The junior has six sacks, 11.5 tackles for a loss, two passes broken up, five quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and an interception. Barnett and the rest of the front seven should be licking their chops at the opportunity to show Bentley what SEC football is really about. If Barnett can dominate the game, his draft stock will continue to climb — he may even begin getting national recognition in the Heisman race.

Edited by Nathan Odom

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Matt is a sophomore journalism and electronic media major at the University of Tennessee. He enjoys watching any and all sports, and is an active member in the Pride of the Southland Marching Band. Follow him on twitter @mattraymond271