COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina coach Will Muschamp wouldn’t bite when asked about Tennessee’s run defense earlier this month.
But facts are facts.
Statistically, Tennessee’s run defense is worse than South Carolina’s. The Vols are 11th in the SEC, allowing an average of 215.3 yards per game. The Gamecocks are one spot higher, giving up 211.1.
“I think you always have to stay balanced, especially with a guy like (Derek) Barnett,” Muschamp said during his Tuesday afternoon news conference.
“He can change the game. We have to account for him in everything. When you stay balanced, it is very difficult on a defense because you are sitting there thinking in your mind, ‘OK, I want to run a pass pressure and run an overload.’ Well, if they run it the other way, we’ve got a problem. That’s why, to me, it is so important to be balanced in what you do.”
Opponents have enjoyed success on the ground against Tennessee this season. Five individuals have put together 100-yard performances.
In the opener, Appalachian State running back Marcus Cox rushed for 115 yards on 24 carries. Virginia Tech’s Travon McMillian rushed 14 times for 127 yards and a score. Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams had 217 yards and a touchdown.
Alabama produced two: quarterback Jalen Hurts with 132 yards and 3 touchdowns and Bo Scarbrough with 109 yards and a score on 5 carries.
South Carolina left tackle Mason Zandi nibbled when asked about Tennessee’s run defense.
“I think, with what coach (Kurt) Roper, coach (Shawn) Elliott and the offensive staff is dialing up, it comes down to us going out there and executing it,” Zandi said. “I think we’re talented enough in the box and on the line to be productive, so it’s just going to come down to executing on game day.”
Zandi will have his hands full with Barnett, who was named a Midseason All-American by Pro Football Focus.
“Derek Barnett, obviously, jumps off the film, as far as the way he plays. He’s an extremely good rusher and plays the run extremely well,” Muschamp said. “Strong at the point of attack and a really good football player. Got the zone pressure against Texas A&M and carries Josh Reynolds down the field. He made some money on that play, and that was impressive.”
Tennessee had a few other difference-makers on defense before the injury bug reared its ugly head.
Cornerback Cam Sutton continues to recover from a fractured ankle that will keep him out for another few weeks.
Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder) and linebacker Quart’e Sapp (knee) have been ruled out for the season.