Time to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. Here are my final thoughts on the game.
Three Keys to Victory
Secondary play. Remember how well our secondary played against Georgia's receivers? We need another performance like that on Saturday. In fact, we may need a better one. Tennessee has two of the conference's best receivers in Cordarelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, and it has a QB in Tyler Bray who, while mistake-prone, has a cannon for an arm and is very capable of creating explosive plays. Jimmy Legree, Akeem Auguste, and Victor Hampton are going to have their work cut out for them in this game, particularly considering that they may get less help from our pass rush than usual. Tennessee has a monster offensive line that's only given up three sacks on the year. That's not to say that I don't think Jadeveon Clowney, who is probably the nation's best pass rusher, will be able to get to Bray a few times, but we're not going to be able to rely on our rush as much as usual Saturday.
Force Bray to make mistakes. Bray is an explosive QB who is as good as any in the conference at beating defenses downfield, but he's also a turnover machine who has thrown nine interceptions on the year. The Gamecocks need to take advantage of any miscues that he makes. So far this season, Carolina has fielded a good defense, but it's not been a defense that's had a lot of takeaways. Turnovers could be particularly important because it might do wonders for our offense's confidence to have some short fields to work with.
Sustain drives. So far this season, UT has often been competitive in the first half against good competition, only to see its defense wilt in the second half. What that means is that Carolina needs to pound these guys and set up a punishing, dominant second-half performance. Sustaining drives will also keep the Vols' formidable offense off the field. Carolina has had trouble moving the football in recent weeks, but with Tennessee fielding what's arguably SEC's worst defense, the chance is there for improvement this week.
Part of me is worried about this game. The team's confidence is probably a bit wounded after the last two weeks, and motivation may be an issue with an SEC Championship all but off the table. We're drained and wounded right now. The Vols, on the other hand, didn't come into the season with expectations, and they might find it easy to get up just for the chance to finally get a victory over a good team. However, the game is at home, we're a better team this year (we're favored by two touchdowns--did you ever think we'd say that about a game against UT?), and this team has good leadership that should be able to motivate it to get ready to get the season back on track. I'm going with the 'Cocks, 38-28.