KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — South Carolina’s football team had a “savage mentality” toward Tennessee heading into last season’s game, and there’s no reason to believe the Gamecocks’ approach will be any different on Saturday.
The past five games between the Vols (3-2, 0-2 SEC) and South Carolina (4-2, 2-2) have been decided by three points or fewer, making this one of the SEC’s more intense matchups.
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp, confident and determined at each turn, apparently had no problem predicting a South Carolina win before the game had even kicked off.
“He just said it so matter-of-factly,” said current Vols freshman offensive lineman K’Rohjn Calbert, who was on an official visit to see the Gamecocks before becoming a Tennessee commit.
That South Carolina confidence turned into a violent mentality in the pregame locker room that caught Calbert off guard.
“I wasn’t scared in the sense for my life, but I was scared because there were a lot of things going on in that locker room, nothing illegal, just words being used, ‘We’re going to kill Tennessee,’” said Calbert, who’s redshirting this season after suffering a knee injury in fall camp.
“Really, it was like a riot. It was, who was hungry enough to come out and take somebody’s head off, like literally, like they really wanted to kill Tennessee, like slaughter everybody. It was a savage mentality.”
Vols fifth-year senior offensive lineman Brett Kendrick said Tuesday that Tennessee must answer the aggressive challenge that South Carolina will bring to Neyland Stadium for the noon kickoff (TV: ESPN).
“We have to match their intensity, [because] obviously they have a special hate for us,” Kendrick said. “If we go out and act like it’s just another team, it can get us beat, so we have to match the way they feel and the way Muschamp feels. We have to go out there and do what we do and know they are trying to take our heads off.”
The 2017 Vols are missing much of the star power of last season’s 9-4 team, which sent six players on to the NFL, including dynamic quarterback Josh Dobbs.
A home loss to South Carolina on Saturday could ultimately cost Jones his job, which could trigger player transfers after the season and fracture the Vols’ 2018 recruiting class.
No doubt, Tennessee, coming off a 41-0 loss to No. 5 Georgia, is in desperate need of a victory with a trip to Alabama on deck.
On Thursday, Vols sophomore receiver Tyler Byrd provoked the Gamecocks on Twitter, making light of a video promoting South Carolina junior cornerback Rashad Fenton.
Fenton, like Byrd, is from South Florida and competed in the long jump in high school, so there could be some history between the two athletes.
I just spent 30 mins trying to book a flight to “Fenton island” no air line recognized that destination I guess it doesn’t exist🤷♂️🤷♂️
— Tyler Byrd (@D1fuzzymuffin17) October 12, 2017
https://t.co/QrdUJ43K1I in case you don’t get it
— Tyler Byrd (@D1fuzzymuffin17) October 12, 2017
Jones likely won’t mind some playful social media interaction, especially since Tennessee has shown more fight within the confines of its own team the past three weeks than it did against Georgia in the worst shutout loss in Neyland Stadium history.
Vols defensive end Darrell Taylor is suspended indefinitely in the aftermath of a practice fight with offensive lineman Trey Smith last week, and the week before, safety Nigel Warrior tangled with defensive tackle Shy Tuttle at practice.
Tennessee football question of the week
“Didn’t Carolina beat us after a bye week last year also?” — Brian Shubert
The Gamecocks won a 24-21 night game in Columbia that took the Vols out of contention for the SEC East title last season.
Tennessee was indeed coming off a bye week — and a 49-10 beatdown at the hands of Alabama — and was missing six starters. (Coincidentally, the Vols are also missing six starters entering Saturday’s game.)
The South Carolina loss was also the breaking point for brooding Tennessee star Jalen Hurd, whom several teammates said refused to return to the game against the Gamecocks after John Kelly was getting snaps ahead of him.
That led to Carlin Fils-aime, then a true freshman, going in at tailback after Kelly broke a long run. Fils-aime then ran into Dobbs on a play-action pass, forcing a fumble which South Carolina recovered.
A few plays later, Warrior — also a true freshman last year — had come into the game in relief of Evan Berry at safety, after Berry got kicked through the face mask and had to leave the game.
South Carolina recognized the substitution and faked a screen pass to draw in Warrior. Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley then threw what proved to be the winning touchdown pass over Warrior’s head.
— Mike Griffith (@MikeGriffith32) August 12, 2017
The Gamecocks’ “Savage Mentality” was enough to knock out a Tennessee team that opened last season 5-0 and was ranked in the Top 10, and this Saturday they can finish off another Vols team, too.
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