The Orange Crush is here and, as usual, our first contestant with a chance to smash South Carolina's dreams is Tennessee.
But before turning our attention to the game this Saturday, let's take a look at what the Volunteers have done so far.
Tennessee's season began on a sour note, with a cross-country 45-31 pummeling at the hands of California. The Vols whipped Southern Miss 39-19, then got blasted 59-20 in Gainesville back when Florida looked indestructible.
The Vols then went on a three-game winning streak that included a 48-27 annihilation of Arkansas State, a 35-14 humbling of Georgia and, in the only road game of the bunch, a 33-21 defeat of Mississippi State.
Then came last week, when Tennessee was unable to do anything in the second half against Alabama. The Vols gained 135 yards of offense after the break. The Tide, meanwhile, churned out another 239 yards following halftime, finishing off a 510-yard effort. Oh, yeah, the score. That would be 41-17, the third time this year the Vols allowed more than 40 points. Not coincidentally, Tennesee has lost all three of those games.
Can anyone around here tackle?
The formula established so far is relatively simple: To beat Tennessee, you need merely to outscore them.
The Gators rolled up 554 yards against Tennessee. California put up 471. On average, the Vols allow 249.0 yards through the air and 157.7 on the ground. The Gamecocks could have some succeess if they focus on getting yards out of Cory Boyd and Mike Davis, as Spurrier has suggested they will.
But the passing game will have to do much better than it did against Vanderbilt.
The closest passing offense of any Vol opponent, statistically, to South Carolina's is Arkansas State, which ranks 60th in the country with 227 ypg. The Gamecocks are 62nd with 225.5 ypg. That's right, South Carolina's passing offense is stastically worse than Arkansas State.
The Vols held Arkansas State to 199 yards through the air, a defensive effort second only to the 174 yards surrendered to Georgia.
It's likely that South Carolina's pass offense is qualitatively better than Arkansas State's, but we'll find out Saturday.
So what about shutting down Tennessee?
Overall, QB Erik Ainge is 169-of-256 for 1,797 yards with 13 TDs against 4 INTs. Ainge averages 256.7 ypg. In his three losses, Ainge is 80-of-123 with 763 yards, 5 TDs and 2 INTs. He averages 254.3 ypg.
In other words, not a big difference.
The team with the most success at stopping Tennessee on the ground was Florida, which limited the Vols to 53 yards rushing on 21 carries. Of the other two teams that beat the Vols, Cal allowed 128 yards and the Tide yielded 103.
How does all of that bode for the South Carolina defense?
The Gamecocks are inarguably better against the pass than the run.
And they are unquestionably the best pass defense the Vols have faced, at least statistically, ranking No. 1 in the country while allowing just 145.9 ypg. (Though, when even Vandy feels comfortable abandoning the pass to run out the clock against you, that helps.)
The closest comparison is Georgia, which ranks No. 13 against the pass after allowing 181.9 ypg through the air. The spelling-challenged Dawgs held Ainge to 17-of-22 for 165 yards and no TDs, though that certainly didn't help Georgia when it came to the scoreboard. It did mark Ainge's lowest yardage and completion total of the year, but it also marked the fewest attempts on the quarterback's part. Of course, when you jump out to a 28-0 halftime lead and end up with 190 yards rushing, your quarterback probably didn't throw for 250 yards.
The closest any Tennessee opponent comes to South Carolina's 82nd-ranked rushing defense (177.8 ypg) is Arkansas State's 71st-ranked unit. No, you didn't read that wrong; South Carolina's run defense is stastically worse than Arkansas State's, which allows 162.4 yards on the ground.
Against Tennessee, they allowed 188 yards on 37 carries, an average of 5.1 ypc. This was actually middle-of-the-pack against the Vols, who rolled up 211 yards against Mississippi State (the 64th-ranked run defense), 193 against Southern Miss (59th) and the aforementioned 190 against Georgia (47th).
So Tyrone Nix needs to come up with some way to stop the run against Tennessee, or it could be a long day in Knoxville.
Unless the offense can outscore the Vols. (Please, stop laughing.) Or Boyd and Davis can shorten the game enough by rushing 35-40 times in the game. Which, at this point, might represent the Gamecocks' best chance at slowing down Tennessee.