Tennessee travels to South Carolina on Saturday still firmly in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth. The Vols gave the Committee a statement they asked for last week by putting up 66 points on the nation’s 13th-ranked defense. South Carolina will not present the same challenges to Tennessee, but there are plenty of variables for the Vols to consider when they travel to Columbia this Saturday.
The Vols will also look to continue dominating this rival, as they own a 28-10-2 all-time advantage, a three-game win streak, and have won six of the last nine.
Vols at South Carolina: Three Things To Look For
South Carolina comes into this weekend’s matchup on the heels of a disappointing performance against Florida. The Gamecocks, while bowl eligible, have been inconsistent all season. In head coach Shane Beamer’s second season, transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler hasn’t put up the numbers expected when he arrived from Oklahoma. And MarShawn Lloyd’s leg injury has stymied the Gamecocks’ rushing attack in recent weeks.
“Beamer Ball” was a term coined when Shane Beamer’s father, Frank, was coaching at Virginia Tech and routinely won games with excellent special teams play. Beamer the Younger has carried that focus on special teams onto his teams as well. South Carolina’s only touchdown against the Gators came on a fake punt.
It will be critical for the Vols to prevent South Carolina from gaining any momentum, especially early, from the special teams. This will likely factor into Josh Heupel’s fourth-down decisions in plus-territory. Look for Tennessee to play super-conservative on special teams and keep the offense on the field on fourth-and-less than three from mid-field to the South Carolina 25.
What to Look For 0 Big Plays (Blocked FG/Punt, Fake FG/Punt for First Down/Touchdown, On-side Kick Recovery) for South Carolina Special Teams
Weather the Weather
The most common criticism of high-tempo, high-pace offenses is their reliance on good field and good weather conditions. Tennessee did nothing to combat their lackluster performance in a drizzly and dreary Athens two weeks ago. The weather forecast for this weekend in Columbia calls for the coldest temperatures that Tennessee will face thus far this season. While dry, the temperatures will be in the low 40s at kick and maybe dip down into the 30s in the second half.
Tennessee’s offense must ensure that they handle the less-than-ideal conditions well. Considering Tennessee might compete with Michigan or Ohio State for a fourth CFP spot, performing well in cold weather conditions will be yet another data point to add to Tennessee’s resume vis-à-vis other CFP contenders.
What to Look For: Tennessee has a > 70% completion percentage and < 2 dropped balls.
Pound The Rock
South Carolina comes into this game with the 113th nationally ranked (out of 131 FBS schools) rush defense. They give up, on average, 192 rushing yards per game. They’ve allowed 200+ rushing yards to opponents five times this season, including twice in their last two games. The Gamecocks yielded 226 rushing yards to Vanderbilt two weeks ago and a staggering 374 rushing yards to the Gators last week.
It’s not going to get any easier for the Gamecocks with the Vols coming to town. Overlooked by the explosive passing plays, Tennessee’s ground game is almost as prolific as its aerial attack. Tennessee averages 195 rushing yards per game and ranks 28th nationally. Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright have complemented each other all season and have split the workload almost exactly evenly. With the late-season emergence of Dylan Sampson as a reliable blocker and explosive run threat, the Vols have a backfield that is almost as dynamic as their receiving corps. That’s critical for this offense as the backs can spell each other in this fast-paced offense and can stay fresh.
With the cold weather and Tennessee’s front five being named one of nine semi-finalists for the Joe Moore Award this week, look for Tennessee to rely on the run to set the tone early and often in this game.
What to Look For: Vols > 250 rushing yards.
Vols at South Carolina: The Last Word
The match-ups benefit Tennessee across the board this Saturday.
The Vols are motivated to make another statement to the Committee. A statement about how complete their team is, how they can play in less-than-ideal conditions, and how they are still one of the four best teams in the nation. South Carolina is bowl eligible but faces two Top Ten teams to finish the season, so it’s unlikely anything will change for them for the rest of the season.
Tennessee’s ground game against the Gamecocks ground defense is a statistical nightmare for South Carolina.
And aggressive and attacking defenses – much like Tennessee’s – have given Rattler and the Gamecock offense fits all season.
Special teams will carry the day on Saturday. And the 2022 version of Tennessee is, indeed, one special team.
Tennessee: 52 Missouri: 17