KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee heads to South Carolina where a hostile crowd likely awaits. The Gamecocks fans are hopeful of an upset against an SEC East Division rival their team has narrowly lost to in the past three meetings.
Mike Wilson covers South Carolina for SEC Country, keeping the pulse of Will Muschamp’s upset-minded football team.
Muschamp went 4-0 against Tennessee while Florida’s head coach.
Here are five questions with Wilson:
Q: Is the hype surrounding freshman quarterback Jake Bentley warranted? If so, why?
MW: “It is and it isn’t. It is because he’s the best passer on the roster. That was clear during fall camp, especially in three days of open practices. Of the three quarterbacks, Bentley was the one that seemed to have the best ability to move the ball in chunks then and now it appears he definitely is that guy. But it’s hard to know how much to expect from the freshman right now. He played well against UMass, for the most part. But it’s just that: He played well against UMass. The test ramps up this week. All that said, Bentley looks like he is going to be a heck of a player in his career. But how good is he now and Saturday? Hard to be sure.”
Q: How has Will Muschamp changed the South Carolina program?
MW: “Effort, toughness, discipline. Or at least that is what Muschamp, the coaches and players are always talking about. Those things have been evident. There are numerous shortcomings for a roster left bare for Muschamp, but they play hard. The talk about the practices always seems to be how physical they are and the players have bought in and responded well. So those traits have been the foundation Muschamp has sought to instill and will continue to work to build into the Gamecocks.”
Q: The Gamecocks are known for the strong patronage of their fans, so what’s the mindset of the general public with the Vols coming to town?
MW: “It has been pretty consistent this season despite the blah offense. I was most interested to see how the turnout would be on the Sunday against Georgia, but it was almost a packed house despite the change and the weather issues. So all that said, I think there’s an excitement because Tennessee is the biggest test of the season so far. Not to mention, it’s a night game at Williams-Brice.”
Q: Tennessee is a two-touchdown favorite, but these games are historically close. What would it take for South Carolina to pull the upset?
MW: It would take a few things. That list starts with forcing turnovers. South Carolina has forced enough, but it had four in two of its wins. That has been a key. Tackling well in space, which has been an issue. If South Carolina can do that, it will force Josh Dobbs to win with his arm, which I think is what South Carolina will be looking for. It also falls on Bentley in many ways. He has to display sound decision making and move the ball effectively downfield.
Q: The Gamecocks have had their struggles. What’s the team’s biggest weakness?
MW: Beyond having no depth, this South Carolina team is not particularly good at running the ball, ranking No. 122 in the nation with little more than 100 yards per game. That’s the crux of the overall offensive struggles in many ways. The lack of success on the ground has led to lack of success in staying in third-and-short, which had led to a lack of success in sustaining drives and not scoring many points. A case also could be made for the run defense in recent weeks, but that has shown flashes of competence, especially early this season. “
Mike Wilson is one of college football’s fastest rising sportswriting stars