Time to run the gauntlet. The Orange Crush has always been the bane of South Carolina football. Will this year be any different? Is this really a "New Carolina?" We're about to begin to find out.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
1. Stop the Run while Keeping Jonathan Crompton in Check
The story for defending Tennessee for the past couple of years has been to sell out to stop the run and assume Jonathan Crompton will screw up. Now, though, Crompton has begun to play better. He made Georgia pay for not respecting his abilities, and while he hasn't been as good in other games, he hasn't been the inept player he last year, either. Still, I'm thinking we have to focus on the run in this game; if we don't, Tennessee will pound it all night and eventually wear us out. The key is figuring out how to do that while keeping an eye on Crompton. Perhaps the thing is to keep Crompton from rolling out and looking underneath, which seems to be when he's most comfortable.
2. The Kicking Game
In what will likely be a low-scoring, defensive battle between two teams that haven't always been great in the red zone, the difference could come down to field goals. Luckily for us, UT's field goal unit has struggled lately. Daniel Lincoln's low kicks and the Vols' protection problems more or less cost them the game against 'Bama. (Supposedly, Lincoln has a groin injury; I'm not sure how much that's affecting him right now.) We, meanwhile, have been pretty good in this department, although there are questions about whether or not Spencer Lanning is capable of making a long-range kick, especially with the game on the line. We'll see how things play out Saturday.
Hopefully not like this.
More like this.
3. How Do the Two Teams Respond to the Tension Produced by the Kiffin Remarks about Alshon Jeffrey?
I'm not usually one to base my projections of games on the "narrative"; the most talented, best prepared team is usually going to win, regardless of what the media prefers to focus on pre-game. However, in this particular case, there seems to be a bit of noise coming from South Carolina in response to Kiffin's gas-pumping comments. Moe Brown says he's out for blood, and you have to think that he is voicing the sentiments of the rest of the team, as well. I'll say that I'm all for the guys letting this motivate them to play a great game. However, it's also key that they play smart, stick to the gameplan, and don't do anything stupid. This team has enough problems with penalties, as it is; we don't need to compound those with unsportsmanlike conduct and personal fouls. Heaven knows we've seen emotional games go south before.
Continue reading after the jump.
Something to Think About
Out of our series with the East's Big Three, Tennessee has arguably replaced Georgia as the closest, most exciting of the bunch. Steve Spurrier has beaten the Vols two out of four times, and the two losses--particularly the one in '07--have been brutally close. With Carolina seemingly on the brink of a breakthrough year and the Vols looking to put their season on track under their new coach, this game could be a pivotal one for the future of these two programs. Lane Kiffin undoubtedly wants into South Carolina's high school talent, and whether or not he gets a head up around here will depend to some degree on how well we acquit ourselves against his team. Win, and we can continue to sign guys like Jarvis Giles and Alshon Jeffrey. Lose, and Kiffin may get those types of players in the future. This is a key game, folks.
As I told NorCalVol, I expect a close USC victory, somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-13. My reasoning? First of all, I think the Vols' kicking game is a major liability, especially considering that they need every point they can get. Moreover, while I think their offense has made major strides, I like Ellis Johnson's chances of coming up with a gameplan to slow the Vols down and I think there's still a good chance that Crompton will commit a game-changing turnover somewhere along the way. Finally, while I think Tennessee has one of the best defenses around, I think we can move the ball if we take what the Vols give us. Tennessee does not have an elite pass rush--it would probably be more accurate to say that the Vols don't favor the blitz in their scheme--and if the Vols don't pressure Stephen Garcia, I like his chances to work the short passing game. With Weslye Saunders back to 100% and with a good set of receiving running backs in the lineup, those plays should be there. Then, if we can move the ball consistently, the big plays to Alshon and Tori Gurley should start to appear. It's also worth noting that we should expect to win the turnover battle in this one, and that could make a huge difference in a close game.