The brutal stretch of games in the middle of Tennessee’s schedule is finally over. Now, the Vols can look forward to the five games that are all winnable. First up, they’ll hit the road to face a South Carolina team that hasn’t lost to an unranked opponent all season. South Carolina is also coming off of a bye week, so Jeremy Pruitt and company have their work cut out for them this week in Columbia. But if they can do the following things, it’s an almost guarantee that they’ll leave Columbia victorious.
Start The Game Hot
This is a tall order for any team playing on the road. You have to figure it will be even harder in a conference game kicking off at night. On one hand, Tennessee has been outscored in the first quarter 69-16 this season. 13 of those first quarter points came against ETSU and UTEP. On the other hand, South Carolina hasn’t exactly started all of its games hot, either. They’ve posted a 41-37 scoreline in the first quarter of games, but that includes a 14-0 first quarter against Coastal Carolina and a 10-0 first quarter against Vanderbilt.
South Carolina will obviously be favored to start the game hot, since it is a night game at home. But if Tennessee can quiet the crowd early, the rest of the game should be manageable.
Don’t Let Deebo Samuel Get Going
With the quarterback position under scrutiny on both teams, it will be interesting to see how the skill position players perform. And of all the position players in this game, South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel is the most dynamic, by far. He can catch, run, and throw. Not to mention he is currently averaging 20.6 yards per kick/punt return this season.
Remember when Pharoh Cooper from South Carolina had a passing, rushing, and two receiving touchdowns against Tennessee in 2014? Samuel is the same type of player. He can do whatever he wants to do on the field if you’ll give him the chance. Tennessee will have to limit his big play opportunities and keep tabs on him every play if they want to stay in this game.
Hold South Carolina Under 25 Points
I wrote after the Alabama game last weekend that Tennessee will live and die with its defense. Tennessee has not won a game this season in which it has allowed more than 24 points to the other team. South Carolina, on the other hand, has been very hit-or-miss so far on offense. They’ve posted 37 point games in wins against Missouri and Vanderbilt, but less than 23 points in the three games that they’ve lost. Tennessee managed to slow down a hot-and-cold Auburn offense a few weeks ago, but got pulverized by the Alabama offense last weekend. Hopefully, they’ll be able to right the ship and slow down a South Carolina offense that is starting to ask questions of its quarterback.
Find The Answer At Quarterback
This will have to happen if Tennessee wants to have any kind of chance at winning consistently the rest of this season. You probably already know the backstory here, too. Jarrett Guarantano had a career game against Auburn, but struggled in the Alabama game the following week. He left that game with an injury, which led to backup Keller Chryst coming in and performing well. Whether it’s Chryst or Guarantano that performs better, I don’t think Pruitt really cares. Surely, he just wants one of them to step up and lead the offense properly. If they can find the answer there, Tennessee’s receivers have the ability to take care of the rest.
If Tennessee can do all four of the things above, then there is a very strong chance that it can pull out the win on the road. If you want a further breakdown of South Carolina, check out Will Warren’s Show Me My Opponent for this week.