KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — There’s a reason Tennessee is a two-touchdown favorite at South Carolina in Saturday’s 7:15 p.m. game at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
The No. 18-ranked Vols (5-2, 2-2 SEC) have accomplished more this season than the Gamecocks (3-4, 1-4), and their team appears to have more talent.
Here’s a look at how Tennessee and South Carolina stack up when comparing position groups.
SEC Country South Carolina beat writer Hale McGranahan @Hale_AJC helped provide some insight to the Gamecocks for this article:
Tennessee: Josh Dobbs has taken over games for the Vols, leading UT back from double digits in four of the program’s five wins this season. Dobbs’ completion percentage would be over 60 percent if not for double-digit drops, and his efficiency would be greater if he were given more time to throw behind what has been a porous offensive line.
South Carolina: Jake Bentley, who should be a senior in high school, looks to get the start after an impressive outing against UMass last week. Fellow freshman Brandon McIlwain provides the Gamecocks with a change-up and is more of a runner.
Tennessee: Jalen Hurd looks to get the bulk of the carries with Alvin Kamara sidelined by a knee injury, and Coach Butch Jones hinted Hurd could line up deeper in the backfield in an effort to increase his efficiency. Sophomore John Kelly has been impressive in limited work.
South Carolina: David Williams is the most experienced of the group and has the talent to break out. A.J. Turner is a redshirt freshman who leads the team in rushing, more of a scat-back style of runner. Freshman Rico Dowdle has been coming on, showing a blend of power and speed.
Tennessee: Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone are tall, speedy targets who have made highlight plays this season, and Tyler Byrd is a freshman speedster who continues to emerge. The Vols are working freshman Brandon Johnson into the rotation more, and Josh Smith remains a veteran option in the slot. UT’s receivers have struggled to make a positive impact.
South Carolina: Deebo Samuel has missed time with a recurring hamstring injury, but he’s ready to go and will likely take jet sweep handoffs as well as catch passes. Bryan Edwards is a bigger target and more of possession receiver. Tight end Hayden Hurst, a former minor league baseball player, is one of the top pass-catching players at his position. K.C. Crosby is another tight end target who can line up in the slot.
Tennessee: The Vols will likely start their fifth different combination in what has been an injury-plagued unit. Senior Dylan Wiesman is the anchor, and he’s expected back after missing the Alabama game. Wiesman could play center or guard, depending on the health of others. Junior Jashon Robertson is a powerful run blocker Jones hopes to get back at guard.
South Carolina: Sophomore Zack Bailey lines up at left guard and has been South Carolina’s best lineman. The Gamecocks have started the same line in the past three games after starting four different lines to open the season. Left tackle Mason Zandi is a redshirt senior who hopes his experience can help him against Derek Barnett.
Edge: South Carolina
Tennessee: The Vols have arguably the most dominant lineman in the SEC in Barnett, and bookend Corey Vereen has also impressed. Kendal Vickers has been solid at defensive tackle, but UT needs another lineman to step up inside.
South Carolina: Defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth is the leader up front. End Darius English is active and could cause problems for Tennessee’s tackles in pass protection. Marquavius Lewis is another end, though he’s more geared toward stopping the run.
Tennessee: The return of sophomore Darrin Kirkland Jr. is expected to provide a major lift, as he is brings a vocal and physical presence that has been missed. Colton Jumper will remain on the field, giving the Vols a capable tandem.
South Carolina: Middle linebacker Jonathan Walton is expected back after missing the UMass game on account of arthroscopic knee surgery. T.J. Holloman and Bryson Allen-Williams are the outside linebackers. Allen-Williams gets moved around to create mismatches.
Tennessee: This could be the Vols sixth different combination in the secondary, as this unit has also suffered several injuries. Junior Todd Kelly Jr. is the leader of the group, playing solid in run support and coverage all season. Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley has improved each outing. Freshman corner Baylen Buchanan could be tested.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have a pair of sticky corners in Chris Lammons and Jamarcus King. At 6-foot-2, King has been a productive player after transferring in from junior college. The safeties have been adequate but hardly game-changers.
Edge: South Carolina
Tennessee: A healthy Evan Berry could be a game changer for the Vols, as he’s one of the most elite kick returners in the nation. Punter Trevor Daniel has been strong, and kicker Aaron Medley reliable. Tyler Byrd could replace Kamara on punt returns.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks punt-return unit has muffed at least four punts this season despite several personnel changes. Punter Sean Kelly and kicker Elliott Fry are reliable seniors. A.J. Turner has been productive returning kicks when healthy.