Last week, Tennessee’s offense put up historic numbers in a 66-24 routing of Missouri. Now, the No. 5 Vols (9-1, 5-1 SEC) will travel to Columbia to face South Carolina (6-4, 3-4 SEC) in the penultimate game of the regular season.
After falling to Georgia, Tennessee looked to bounce back with a blowout win over a struggling Missouri team. That is exactly what they did.
The Vols totaled 724 yards which marked a new school record. The 66 points scored is also a new program record under Josh Heupel.
Leading the Tennessee offense was Heisman candidate Hendon Hooker. The star quarterback threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns while running for 50 yards and a score. Later in the game, he was replaced by Joe Milton III who continue the demolition. He totaled 105 yards and a touchdown on just three completions.
The pair of quarterbacks’ favorite targets were Jalin Hyatt and Bru McCoy. Hyatt finished the day with 146 receiving yards and a touchdown. McCoy finished with 111 receiving yards.
With Cedric Tillman ruled out moments before kick-off, other options were Squirrel White, Ramel Keyton, Jacob Warren and Princeton Fant. Keyton caught one touchdown and Fant caught two.
On the ground, freshman Dylan Sampson led the attack. After entering in the third quarter, he quickly made a big impact. He rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. He also scampered for a big pickup of 42.
Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright also contributed with a combined 105 rushing yards.
On defense, Tennesee started poorly but slammed the door shut in the second half. After allowing Brady Cook and the Missouri offense to move the ball effectively to open the game, just an early third-quarter touchdown was allowed for the remainder of the match.
Juwan Mitchell led the team in tackles with six. He also recorded two quarterback hurries. Cook did a good job of avoiding sacks, but Tyler Baron and James Pearce Jr. were both able to bring him down once. Baron also led the team with four tackles for loss.
The defense as a whole created one turnover, as well. Doneiko Slaughter jumped on a fumble lost by Tyler Macon.
Overall, it was another dominating win to get the Vols back on track. The defense showed more signs of weakness to begin but pulled together to ensure it would finish as a one-sided affair.
South Carolina’s Season
After squeaking into the Top 25, the Gamecocks have struggled. They currently sit at a 6-4 record following a blowout loss to Florida, a win over Vanderbilt and a demoralizing loss to Missouri.
Despite Shane Beamer having South Carolina bowl eligible for the second time in his two-year stint, his team has shown some major weaknesses.
On offense, the Gamecocks have struggled. The team currently ranks 11th in the SEC in total yards per game. Leading the attack is Oklahoma transfer, Spencer Rattler. Rattler has struggled in his debut season in Columbia, throwing just eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.
At wide receiver, his favorite target has been Antwane Wells Jr. who has totaled 590 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Jalen Brooks Jr. has also had a successful year with 415 yards, but he is yet to reach the endzone. Outside of that pair, South Carolina has struggled to find consistent play from wideouts.
Out of the backfield, MarShawn Lloyd has been the feature back. He’s racked up 556 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Another force has been Christina Beal-Smith who’s shown a knack for finding the endzone with five scores. However, both running backs will be held out of the contest with Tennessee leaving Juju McDowell with the bulk of the running game to carry. McDowell currently sits with 195 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
On defense, the Gamecocks have also run into troubles. They currently rank as the 10th worst defense in the SEC in terms of yards and points allowed per game. One of the unit’s biggest issues has been causing pressure. The team has recorded just 16 sacks in 10 games. This was on display against Florida as the Gators put up 38 points after being sacked just three times.
Nick Emmanwori currently leads the team with tackles at 66. Jordan Burch leads the team in sacks at 3.5. Marcellas Dial and Darius Rush have both come down with two interceptions.
South Carolina’s claim to fame under Beamer, though, is its special teams. The return game on punts and kicks has been effective. The group also has shown an impressive ability to block these attempts and create great field positions for their offense.
Overall, the Gamecocks are just an okay football team. There are certainly worse programs within the SEC and they’ve proven that they can compete with some mid-level squads, but a 48-7 loss to Georgia shows their true colors.
Vols vs. Gamecocks History
Dating back to 1903, Tennessee currently holds a 28-10-2 advantage in the series over South Carolina. The teams have played every season since 1992 with the longest streak coming in the form of 12 Vol wins from 1993-2004. Currently, Tennessee holds a three-game win streak dating back to the Jeremy Pruitt era.
Last year, Tennessee ran South Carolina out of Neyland Stadium in a 45-20 win. The Vols went up 35-0 in the second quarter before calling off the dogs and coasting to a victory.
In the win, Tennessee found most of its success on the ground. Tiyon Evans rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown, Hendon Hooker rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown and Len’Neth Whitehead rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown. As a team, the Vols racked up 247 rushing yards.
Through the air, Hooker dazzled with 225 yards and three touchdowns. He hit Velus Jones Jr. for 103 yards and a score, Cedric Tillman for 59 yards, JaVonta Payton for 39 yards and a score and Jalin Hyatt for 21 yards and a score.
Defensively, Tennessee forced an interception and a lost fumble. Brandon Turnage recorded 14 tackles and two tackles for loss. Jeremy Banks got to the quarterback for 1.5 sacks.
5 Keys to the Game
Deal with crowd noise
Against Georgia, Tennessee admitted that the rowdy crowd affected its play. With a packed house in order in Columbia, the Vols will need to do a much better job dealing with this. The entire offense needs to stay composed and the offensive line needs to stay disciplined. Too many false starts can kill drives and leave Tennessee behind the sticks.
A good way to deal with crowd noise is to take an early lead. If the Vols can get on the board fast and make South Carolina play from behind, the crowd may be taken out of the equation. Tennessee is also at its best when it strikes early. The offense needs to come in firing on all cylinders to take any pressure off the team.
Limit special team mistakes
South Carolina will look to punish the Vols on special teams. Tennessee can’t let that happen. There can’t be any missed assignments or the Gamecocks will find ways to take advantage of the miscues and create points. It will be hard to deal with their pressure, but a solid game from the special team units will make it that much harder for South Carolina to compete.
Rush the quarterback effectively
Spencer Rattler has struggled to escape pressures resulting in just eight net rushing yards after being sacked 23 times. On the other hand, Tennessee has shown an effective ability to rush the quarterback. Tyler Baron and Byron Young have done a great job getting around the edge and need to pinch Rattler in the pocket throughout the game. He’s already struggled this season and making him deal with pressure could result in a low-scoring night from the Gamecocks.
Impress the committee
It’s not a secret that Tennessee continued to pour it on against Missouri to boost its favorability inside the College Football Playoff committee. If that’s what it will take to ensure the Vols find themselves inside the top four after the season, then they should keep their foot on the gas against the Gamecocks, too. A win by a large margin may not lead to Tennessee jumping an undefeated TCU, but it will secure its spot as the next team in.
This one should get ugly pretty quickly.
Tennessee is top-to-bottom a better team than South Carolina. This should be proven on the field for all 60 minutes.
The Vols will jump out to an early lead thanks to Hendon Hooker and a motivated Jalin Hyatt. Despite being from South Carolina, Hyatt was not offered by his hometown school. This motivation will lead to multiple touchdowns and well over 100 receiving yards. Hooker will also end with over 300 yards through the air and a collection of scores, through the air and on the ground.
On defense, the Vols will halt any resemblance of a South Carolina attack and force Spencer Rattler into crucial mistakes. Multiple takeaways are a serious possibility.
It should be another big win for the Vols as they march into a season-finale against Vanderbilt the following Saturday.
Tennessee – 49
South Carolina – 17
Game Time and Coverage
The matchup will kick off in Williams-Brice Stadium at 7 p.m. EST. The contest will air on ESPN and TNJN will have more coverage following the game.
Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org