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South Carolina at Tennessee Preview: Checking in on USC's Offense

Needless to say, the Gamecocks will be sporting a much different offense this week than they have in weeks past. Here are a few quick thoughts on what you may see.

--I would take the news about Bruce Ellington's hamstring pull with a grain of salt. Perhaps he actually is questionable for the weekend, but after watching the post-practice interviews, I'd be very surprised if he doesn't play. Jay Graham kind of smirked before answering the press's questions about Bruce with the standard "we'll wait and see" response, and Alshon Jeffery didn't seem too concerned. It's being reported that while he didn't take part in contact drills, Ellington was on the field throwing the ball around with a smile on his face. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the coaching staff is sandbagging a bit here to see if they can throw UT off. At any rate, if he's in anything approaching good shape, Ellington will play. And if he does, I expect him to play a big role in our offensive approach, with plenty of wildcat, perhaps with an expanded playbook out of the formation. With lots of uncertainty regarding our base running game right now, Spurrier is likely to be very creative on offense this weekend. If Bruce doesn't play, by the way, I wouldn't be surprised to see Stephon Gilmore get on the field in the wildcat. Don't forget that we have greater depth at CB this year and could afford to sit Gilmore a defensive series or two if we want to play him on offense.

--My main concern about Connor Shaw after two games is that he hasn't yet developed the internal clock necessary to know when it's time to get rid of the ball if no one is open. For that reason, he's taken a few more sacks than he's needed to. Fortunately for Carolina, though, Tennessee does not have an effective pass rush. The Vols don't like to blitz, and their front four isn't getting a lot of pressure in most games. The Vols currently rank 93rd in the country in sacks. I think this weakness plays right into Carolina's hands, because Shaw's propensity to take sacks has been one of the biggest drive killers for the Gamecocks in past weeks--indeed, it might be the biggest offensive weakness right now, other than the lack of a running game. If UT can't pressure Shaw, I look for us to try to go down field a few times in this game. Tennessee has given up big passing plays in recent weeks, and I wouldn't be surprised to see us hit Alshon Jeffery, Ace Sanders, or Damiere Byrd on a long TD pass at some point.

--It will be interesting to see how Tennessee responds to Marcus Lattimore's injury. You would have to imagine that the Vols will have less respect for the run and will choose to challenge Shaw with confusing coverage schemes. If they do, I hope Steve Spurrier takes the gambit and gives Brandon Wilds many chances to run the ball. If the coaching staff believes in this guy, they need to give him an opportunity to make some plays. It should also be noted that Kenny Miles will play in this game. While not an elite back, Miles has proven many times that he's a hard runner who is capable of making plays. He, too, needs to get some carries in this game. Of course, the real key to getting the running game going is probably offensive line play, and while I'm not sure that's going to improve dramatically over the course of the next few weeks, I do have some hopes that, at the very least, our line will be a bit fresher after the week off, as well as that young Cody Gibson may be growing into his role as the season progresses. Regardless, it would be great if we could establish some kind of consistency running the football. Wilds and Miles may not be Heisman contenders, but if the offense starts clicking, they may be capable of helping us move the chains. That's probably all they need to do to contribute to wins down the stretch.