COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina football team hits the road for Rocky Top on Saturday, where the SEC East rivalry with Tennessee will be renewed at noon ET.
The game will be televised on ESPN. Here are the predictions from SEC Country contributors Mike Chapman and Hale McGranahan:
Mike: South Carolina 30, Tennessee 27
South Carolina is facing a Tennessee team coming off of a bye week after being shut out 41-0 at home by Georgia. The Vols haven’t scored a point since Sept. 23.
To try to remedy their offensive woes, Tennessee will start freshmen quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, a dual-threat whose legs could provide a spark. Unfortunately, for Guarantano, he’ll face a South Carolina defense that just scored 3 defensive touchdowns and forced 4 turnovers against Arkansas.
The Gamecocks will leave Neyland Stadium with their third win in Knoxville, because the defense will be too much for the freshmen to handle. And it just so happens that he might be playing for his coach’s job.
The key to victory for South Carolina is to start fast, score early and take the crowd out of this game. Co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper called a great game last week, mixing in a lot of different formations and getting the ball in the hands of all the playmakers. I believe we’ll see the same thing this week.
South Carolina needs to continue to find ways to run the ball effectively and open up the passing game for Jake Bentley, who needs to come out hot in the first quarter, something he has struggled to do this season.
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The defense is going to have its hands full trying to stop running back John Kelly, who leads Tennessee in rushing and receiving. Kelly will get his yards, but South Carolina’s defense can’t let anyone else beat them while doing their best to try to contain Kelly.
South Carolina stays with the trend over the last five contests between these two, winning by a field goal, 30-27.
Hale: South Carolina 24, Tennessee 17
If South Carolina is able to start fast on the offensive side of the ball, it could be bad news for Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who might be coaching for his job on Saturday in Knoxville.
An early lead for South Carolina could go a long way in taking the crowd of the game, assuming they actually show up ready for a fight with an early noon ET start.
Fortunately for Jones and those on Rocky Top not ready to bid him farewell, the Gamecocks quarterback has struggled to catch his stride in the early stages of games this season.
One might assume that Tennessee’s offense is going to do its best to establish the run with a quarterback making his first career start. But if they’re playing from behind for most of the game, it might be difficult to stay committed to the ground game.
That being said, there’s no guarantee that Quentin Dormady, who started the Vols’ first five games, won’t play at some point along the way on Saturday.
Not only do I like the matchup for the Gamecocks — look no further than last year’s success in Williams-Brice — but I wonder if there have been too many distractions lately in Knoxville, and not just during the bye week.
The head coach’s seat continues to get hot. And whether it’s a fight in practice or plans for the starting quarterback, things have leaked to the media that shouldn’t get out and usually don’t get out at other more stable places.
But the bye week could have also served as a rallying point for the players.
Though there’s reason for South Carolina to be concerned about slowing down Kelly and Guarantano, who’s capable of beating you with his legs, I think the Gamecocks are 5-2 heading into their bye week.
I say that, in part, because Rico Dowdle ran well last weekend. And he ran really well last season against Tennessee.
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