As always, Gamecock Man is more prompt than I am -- or ever have been -- so remember to go here for the Open Thread, where you can speculate about how high Phil Fulmer's sideline pacing registers on the Richter Scale. Or actually talk about the game.
1. Offense. No, you didn't read that wrong. Sure, the South Carolina offense is nothing to brag about -- but the Vols offense is abysmal. Or awful. Or terrible. Or all of the above. Their offense averages 280.6 ypg -- total! -- "good" for 112th in the nation. There are 119 teams in the FBS. There are going to be very few times this year that the Gamecocks are going to clearly have the better offense on the field; they have to take advantage of it when it happens.
2. Stephen Garcia. Yes, he's had his problems. But there's a reason Garcia will start Saturday: He's by far the best quarterback we have.
|2008 - Stephen Garcia||4||141.2||37||61||60.7||515||128.8||13.9||3||2||45||124||31.0||2.8||1||-||-|
With the exception of the TD-to-INT ratio and ypg (inflated by games he played in but didn't start), those are pretty solid numbers. So solid, in fact, that the officials sometimes feel the need to give the defense a hand. I'll spare you most of my soapbox -- accuracy! -- in support of Garcia -- accuracy! -- considering you've heard it -- accuracy! -- all before.
3. Reversion to the mean. The lucky breaks Tennessee has gotten over the last two years, including the one discussed by Gamecock Man, have been absolutely ridiculous. Footballs bouncing in ways no one thought possible, a false start penalty that gave the Vols -- the team flagged for the penalty -- another shot at a crucial FG ... and on and on and on. All these sabermetricians tell us luck has to even out. We can hope that will happen this year.
4. Defense. Giving the offense its credit isn't meant to exclude the team's better half. South Carolina still has the edge in every major defensive statistic save rushing yardage allowed (and even there the difference is less than 10 ypg). The Gamecocks' defense isn't overwhelmingly better than the Vols' -- but when their offense is almost unquestionably worse, it should be good enough.
5. Disarray. There's a reason I've started the Phil Fulmer Death Watch over at TSK; the Great Pumpkin is likely on his way out. And there might be a few jack-o-lanterns that will be on porches longer than Fulmer will remain Tennessee's head coach. The danger here is that the players will rally to try to save the Donut King, but they haven't done it so far and now would be a funny time to start.
1. Keeping it close. Since 2000, this game has been decided by more than seven points twice, and more than eight points once. The Gamecocks and the Vols have settled things in overtime twice. If Tennessee is actually the inferior team here -- and all indications are that it is -- then the easiest path to victory is to keep things close going into the fourth quarter and then pull it out late. Which has recently been the recipe for success in this game more years than not.
2. Eric Berry. It's not often that you think of a defensive back as one of the team's most explosive players with the ball in his hands. Then again, Eric Berry isn't your average DB; his five picks for 175 yards and a touchdown this year moved him to first all-time in the SEC in interception return yardage. It's not unreasonable to worry more about Berry making his way to the end zone than anyone on the Vols' offense.
3. Terrorists. That's right -- Tennessee hates America. How else do you account for their association with unrepentant terrorist Robert Ayers. What? Oh, sorry, wrong Ayers. Then again, Robert Ayers does a pretty good job of terrorizing opposing offenses. Nine tackles for loss, including a sack, and six quarterback hurries. The defensive end is disruptive and, yep, yet another South Carolina high school player who got away.
4. Giving away the ball. The Gamecocks rank dead last in turnover margin in the SEC, giving the other team the ball 23 times and forcing a turnover 14 times this season. The Vols might be offensively inept, but they're not that offensively inept; give them the ball in great field position, and they'll win the game.
5. Motivation. The possibility of Fulmer's dismissal could just as easily fire up his players and make this a very dangerous game for South Carolina. If the Gamecocks don't realize that they're playing for legitimacy, they won't have any when the game is over.
PREDICTION: Yet another tight, hard-fought game in what could easily blossom into a rivalry with a few more South Carolina wins. This has the potential to be the first of those. South Carolina 24, Tennessee 21