LOCATION: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC
BETTING LINE: Tennessee -14
TENNESSEE PLAYER TO WATCH
At the beginning of the season, John Kelly probably wasn’t much of a thought in the Tennessee offense. Through the course of the season the Vols have had to face some tough injuries. This weekend against South Carolina, Kelly should get a good amount of the touches. Alvin Kamara is out with a knee injury for the next few weeks. Kelly has proven he is a tough runner. His 89 yards and two touchdowns gave Tennessee some life in the Texas A&M game. His touches will be increased this weekend, showing what he can do.
SOUTH CAROLINA PLAYER TO WATCH
Gamecocks TE Hayden Hurst has made some rather impressive plays in South Carolina’s otherwise lackluster offense. In fact, Hurst leads the team with 31 receptions, and 397 total receiving yards. However, Hurst only saw the ball come his direction once last week against UMass. Despite leading the team in several receiving categories, Hurst is yet to haul in a touchdown. Jake Bentley will need to get the ball to Hurst if the Gamecocks plan to pull the prime-time upset against their SEC East foe. Before walking on to the Gamecocks football program in 2015, Hurst played professional baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Thanks to his experience in pressure situations during his baseball career, Hurst should be Bentley’s go-to option in many 3rd down attempts on Saturday. Hopefully, Gamecock fans will see him finally find the end-zone this weekend.
TENNESSEE POSITION GROUP PREVIEW
OFFENSIVE LINE: Offensive line could get a piece back this weekend in Dylan Wiesman, who has been sitting out since Texas A&M with a concussion.
RUNNING BACKS: With Alvin Kamara out this weekend and Jalen Hurd struggling, John Kelly should see his touches increase. He has shown to be an explosive runner with the ball in his hands.
QUARTERBACKS: Joshua Dobbs had has coming out part a few years back against South Carolina when he brought the Vols back from two touchdowns with just over two minutes left in the game. He should be confident for this one as well.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Kahlil McKenzie is out for the season, and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop expects Jonathan Kongbo and others will step up.
LINEBACKERS: Tennessee gets a huge piece of their linebacker group back in Darrin Kirkland Jr. this week. He should step back in as the leader of this defense as the season goes on.
SECONDARY: The Vols have scrambled their secondary this season. They have been exposed by great teams but have been good enough against average offenses. Todd Kelly Jr understands what his group has to do on the field this week.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Trevor Daniel has been a special teams weapon for Tennessee. He’s pinned team’s inside the 10 yard line multiple times this year and has given Tennessee great field position.
COACHING: Butch Jones got a much needed bye week after two straight losses, but now needs to focus on winning out, something that the Vols are very capable of doing.
GAME PREVIEW ANALYSIS
If Tennessee is truly an SEC East contender, they should have no trouble walking away from Columbia with a win. Although the Gamecocks have found new life under Jake Bentley, they still face many offensive struggles. Moreover, South Carolina has just one win against an SEC opponent this season.
Tennessee should be fresh and energized coming off a bye week. The Volunteers shouldn’t feel to concerned over a loss to the top team in the country just two weeks ago. Josh Dobbs should be able to light up the field and make big time plays and conversions.
If Tennessee can force South Carolina into defensive and special teams mistakes, they will earn their 6th win of the year. Further, the Gamecocks have been known to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to special teams this season. Carolina has several muffed or dropped punt returns that have come in key moments of competition.
Although they are showing progress, Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks don’t look quite ready to pull the upset yet.
Prediction: Tennessee 24, South Carolina 14
SOUTH CAROLINA POSITION GROUP RATINGS
OFFENSIVE LINE: Although they did a decent job protecting Bentley last week, the O-Line needs to give the freshman more time in the pocket to find his receivers.
TIGHT ENDS: Hayden Hurst needs to rebound from an underwhelming performance against UMass if the Gamecocks want to be competitive on Saturday.
RUNNING BACKS: Although young, the Gamecocks have a rather impressive trio of running backs. The running game should be an asset for Carolina this weekend.
QUARTERBACKS: Jake Bentley dressed to impress in his debut last week. However, Tennessee is a much tougher opponent than the Minutemen.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Deebo Samuel had some un-clutch drops last Saturday. He’ll need to help his young QB out and make tough catches.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Darius English trying to stop Josh Dobbs will be a fun match-up to watch.
LINEBACKERS: The linebacker unit will need to play a key role in preventing Dobbs from scrambling to pick up first downs.
SECONDARY: Carolina’s secondary gave up 3 touchdowns through the air last weekend. Moreover, they could be picked apart this weekend if Dobbs gets ample time in the pocket.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Elliot Fry needs four more made field goals to move into the SEC’s career top-10 total field goals made list. Further, Fry was nominated for the Wuerffel Trophy earlier this week.
COACHING: Will Muschamp will look to get his first win against a ranked opponent as the Gamecocks head coach. Important, Muschamp went 4-0 against Tennessee while he was in charge at Florida.