Time to take on the Vols in Knoxville. Here's what I'm thinking about the game.
Three Keys to Victory
3. Gamecocks receivers must make plays in space. Tennessee's inexperienced secondary showed some weaknesses tackling in space against Oregon and Florida, and with fast, elusive players like Damiere Byrd and Shaq Roland available, the Gamecocks should have the opportunity to soften Tennessee up with option screens and so forth. Against Arkansas, the Gamecocks nearly broke long gains off of these sorts of plays multiple times. This might be the week when we finally do so.
2. Gamecocks must build on positive special teams performance against Arkansas. The Gamecocks' most correctable flaw this season has been special teams turnovers. Special teams played a huge role in our allowing Vandy and Kentucky back into those games, and certainly, special teams haven't played any role in our own ability to score points. They haven't, that is, until Pharoh Cooper had a nice return last week against Arkansas that set up a score. If we can continue to at least avoid costly mistakes on special teams, it will help a lot against a team that may need to hope for us to make mistakes if it wants to win.
1. Defensive line and linebackers must play their best game yet. The Gamecocks' biggest weaknesses defensively has seemed to be breakdowns in pass coverage, with run defense being a bit stronger. However, the Gamecocks have yet to face an offensive line that's as good as Tennessee's, which might be the best in the conference, if not the nation. The Gamecocks defensive line, particularly on the interior, has played well in recent weeks, but they're going to be challenged this week. The Gamecocks linebackers, too, will have to continue to improve at shedding blocks. Another thing to watch for is how the Gamecocks linebackers and safeties tackle when Raijon Neal and Marlin Lane get to the second level. Arkansas's runningbacks had some success making our second-level defense look bad last week, and while neither Neal nor Lane are as dynamic as Alex Collins, they're probably going to get more opportunities given that our defensive line is probably going to get moved at points in this game.
I hope the Vols don't make me pay for this, because they're certainly able, but I think we win this game roughly 34-21. Is UT better than us anywhere other than on the offensive line, a position where both teams are very good and thus they don't really have a huge advantage over us? If we play well, we win. I like a newly focused Gamecocks to do just that.