We’re fully entrenched in the stretch run of the 2015 college football season, and both South Carolina and Tennessee find themselves in must-win situations in order to gain bowl eligibility.
The Gamecocks are three wins short of the six-win standard, and have played better under interim coach Shawn Elliott, who seemingly has the backing of his team. Conversely, Tennessee is two wins away from reaching six for the season and, like its counterpart, have fared much better as the season has gone on.
This meeting between unranked SEC teams has the making of a close game, despite what the oddsmakers suggest.
Here’s what you need to know about Saturday’s game:
South Carolina (3-5, 1-5) at Tennessee (4-4, 2-3)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 7, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Weather: 61 degrees, 90 percent chain of rain (Weather.com)
Line: Tennessee -17
Series: Tennessee leads 24-7-2
By the numbers
8: The last three meetings between South Carolina and Tennessee have been decided by a combined eight points. Tennessee has won the last two games against the Gamecocks, including a 45-42 triumph in overtime in 2014. South Carolina last defeated the Vols in 2012 by a score of 38-35.
3: Last year’s meeting was a career day for Gamecocks wideout Pharoh Cooper, who threw, caught and ran for a touchdown against the Vols. In that game, Cooper hauled in 11 passes for a school record 233 yards, including a pair of receiving touchdowns. Cooper’s three-game streak of 100-plus-yard receiving performances was snapped last week at Texas A&M.
5: Tennessee has five special teams touchdowns, the most in a single season in program history. Return specialist Evan Berry leads in the nation in kick return touchdowns (3), while the tandem of Alvin Kamara and Cameron Sutton have the Vols tied for the national lead in punt return touchdowns with one apiece.
Storylines to watch
Can Brandon Wilds go … wild?
Wilds has 41 carries over his last two games. Comparatively speaking, Wilds carried the ball just 35 times in South Carolina’s first three games. Elliott, a former offensive line coach, has shown a dedication to the running game and feeding the workhorse. Wilds has answered with 247 yards and two touchdowns the past two games. Last season, Wilds rushed for 128 yards against the Tennessee defense. Given the new-look offense and a successful track record against the Volus, can Elliott continue his recent tear?
How many players will take snaps under center for South Carolina?
Perry Orth remains the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback. That’s clear. However, Elliott believes true freshman Lorenzo Nunez is deserving of more snaps. Last week against Texas A&M, Nunez scored on a 7-yard touchdown. Additionally, Elliott mentioned the team would line Cooper up in different positions to feature their most prolific playmaker. Does that include quarterback? Elliott continues to suggest the offense will introduce new wrinkles each week, so could there be specially designed packages that feature either Nunez or Cooper under center? We shall see.
Matchup to watch: Joshua Dobbs vs. Skai Moore
Last week, Aggies true freshman quarterback Kyler Murray gashed the South Carolina defense for 223 yards through the air and another 156 yards rushing. The task doesn’t get easier as the Gamecocks look to rebound against another dual-threat quarterback. Against Kentucky a week ago, Dobbs accounted for 233 yards passing, 51 yards on the ground and a combined four touchdowns. If Dobbs has similar success against the Gamecocks, then Tennessee might run away with this game early.
My prediction: Tennessee 37, South Carolina 30