It’s history versus the oddsmakers when Tennessee hosts South Carolina on Saturday.
For those that use history as a guide to predict college football games, the Tennessee-South Carolina matchup should be a barn burner. The Vols needed a last-second field goal in 2013 and overtime in 2014 to win the last two contests against the Gamecocks. The combined margin of victory was just five points in those games. The last three games have been decided by a combined total of just eight points.
Those that set the point spread in Las Vegas don’t think this one will be close. Tennessee is a 17-point favorite.
The Vols seem easy to figure. They are playing well with two impressive victories in the past two weeks. They also have plenty to play for. If Tennessee can win its four remaining regular season games, the Vols might find a sunny destination in their future when they’re selected to play in a bowl game.
South Carolina is a bit more of mystery. They’re playing under interim coach Shawn Elliott, who replaced Steve Spurrier after he resigned in October. The Gamecocks certainly have more fight under Elliott. However, they’ve only defeated Vanderbilt and lost to a Texas A&M team that had lost two straight before beating this South Carolina team by seven points.
Technically, South Carolina can still make a bowl game but they’d have to win two-of-three against Tennessee, Florida and Clemson – assuming they beat the Citadel. Becoming bowl eligible will be no easy feat. However, it’s surely a rallying cry for the Gamecocks this week.
As for the Vols, they’ll try to run the winning streak against South Carolina to three games and prove that Tennessee’s gut-wrenching losses they sustained early in the season are not a true reflection of this team.
Tennessee Volunteers (4-4, 2-3 SEC) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (3-5, 1-5 SEC)
Kickoff: Sat., Nov. 7 – 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Weather: 77 degrees, 50-percent chance of showers (Weather.com)
Line: Tennessee -17
By the numbers
2 – The number of votes Tennessee received in the Associated Press Poll. Another impressive showing could have the Vols knocking on the door of the top 25.
3 – That’s where South Carolina junior receiver Pharoh Cooper ranks in catches (44) and receiving yards (609) in the SEC.
7.87 – The average margin of victory in the Tennessee-South Carolina series since 2000.
8 – The number of defenders South Carolina figures to put in the box to try to stop Tennessee’s running game. Kentucky played that “Bear” front for almost the entire game against the Vols. The Vols have had success running against the Bear front, but it’s awfully tempting to throw the ball deep as Tennessee did last week when quarterback Joshua Dobbs found receiver Josh Malone for a 75-yard touchdown.
210.7 – That’s Dobbs’ average yards per game in total offense in the Vols’ four losses this season.
289.5 – That’s Dobbs’ average yards per game in total offense in the Vols’ four wins this season. As Dobbs goes, so do the Vols.
Storylines to watch
How will the the Vols defend Pharoh Cooper?
In the previous three weeks, the Vols have faced three of the SEC’s top 10 receivers: Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell, Kentucky’s Garrett Johnson and Alabama’s Calvin Ridley. However, Cooper is different than anyone else in the conference. He lines up all over the field, even sometimes in the backfield. He’s also been known to throw the ball. He’s South Carolina’s best chance for the upset.
Just how good is Brandon Wilds?
In this season of great tailbacks, Wilds has been overlooked. There’s good reason. He’s been banged up, underutilized and on a dysfunctional team for much of the season. Now, Elliott is using Wilds, who is averaging 5.6-yards per carry. Wilds may not be an elite tailback, but he’s solid and will test the Vols up front.
Will the Vols take more shots deep?
After the Kentucky game, there’s reason to believe Tennessee can complete some passes downfield. Dobbs proved he can throw a nice deep ball. Even though Tennessee’s receivers are banged up, they still have enough talent to win one-on-one matchups. They should have plenty of opportunities if South Carolina loads up to stop the run, as expected.
Will Tennessee’s pass rush continue its late season surge?
The Vols had nine sacks in their first six games. They’ve had seven in their last two. Junior Corey Vereen deserves much of the credit for his improved play. However, Tennessee’s entire defensive line has created more of a consistent push, inside and outside.
Will Evan Berry score again with his brother in attendance?
The last time former Vol Eric Berry was in Neyland Stadium, his brother, Evan Berry, returned a kick for a touchdown. It will be a little tougher against South Carolina than it was against Western Carolina on Sept. 19. Gamecocks coach Shawn Elliott has repeatedly said he’s very impressed with Berry, who is the leading kick returner in the nation. It will be interesting to see how South Carolina tries to negate Berry’s impact.
Prediction: Tennessee 34, South Carolina 20
The Vols are playing too well to let this one slip by. However, South Carolina is better than their record would indicate. Look for this to be a one possession game early in the fourth quarter. While the game won’t ever really be in doubt, the Gamecocks will play hard and keep the game somewhat close. However, the Vols are just too talented to lose this game unless they come out incredibly flat.
Tennessee will score late to make things more comfortable for their fans, but don’t expect the Vols to cover the 15-plus point spread.