So many times the result of a Tennessee football game have left Gamecock fans battered, depressed and confused.
Whether it be South Carolina losing Marcus Lattimore forever against Tennessee in 2012, having their SEC title hopes washed away in 2013 on a miracle catch or missing game-tying field goals in 2007 and 2014 — the Vols have long been a thorn in the side of the Gamecocks since their SEC inception in 1992.
Saturday was not one of those days.
South Carolina shut out Tennessee in the second half to crawl ahead 15-9 and outlast the Vols with three plays at the two yard line to seal the win. Now 5-2, South Carolina is sitting in a nice position to top the previous season’s 6-7 record.
Funny how Tennessee might prove to be the pivotal swing game in both seasons.
There’s a lot to take away from the win so savor this week’s observations piece. We won’t get anymore Gamecock football until Oct. 28 when South Carolina hosts Vanderbilt.
The Muschamp Identity
Slowly and surely over the course of this season South Carolina’s identity has morphed into the Florida team’s of Will Muschamp from 2011-2014. The defense has looked better and improved with every passing game — culminating in Saturday’s shutdown of the Vols offense.
But much like those Florida teams earlier this decade, the offense comes and goes but mostly goes. Check out some of the point totals: 13, 17, 17, and 15 Saturday. South Carolina’s 2-2 in those games — which is fine, but the team will not take the next step unless Muschamp can figure out how to play offense.
I can give a little bit of leeway with injuries to Deebo Samuel and a handful of key offensive linemen, but this was the same problem last season especially when South Carolina faced an elite defense. Just something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Defense absorbs burden
Now that we’ve finished poo-pooing for the meantime, let’s heap some praise on the South Carolina defense. Preface: Tennessee’s offense does not scare anyone. John Kelly is a great running back who can create match up problems and Brandon Johnson is a good receiver, but outside them the Vols have nothing that can score points.
This includes their quarterback controversy that saw Jarrett Guarantano pushed into his first college start. But even with as bad as Tennessee’s offense has been, South Carolina’s defense deserves all the credit in the world for keeping the Gamecocks in this game.
Kelly was contained relatively well, the defense generated a respectable pass rush and held three times on the two yard line to seal the win for good. It’s pretty incredible to think just how far this defense has come in two years, so give Muschamp credit in that regard for rebuilding this unit back to strength.
“Next man up” backfield
It’s crazy to think AJ Turner looked like the running back of the future after hitting a 75 yard touchdown run against Texas A&M on Oct. 1, 2016. But that all quickly ended when Rico Dowdle emerged as the No. 1 back in the second half of the season and made worse when Ty’son Williams proved to be an effective starter this season.
AJ Turner was quickly shuffled to the back of the depth chart but suddenly emerged when Dowdle went down with an ankle injury Saturday. Seemingly out of now where, Turner became South Carolina’s most reliable offensive player by racking up 86 rushing yards and the game’s only touchdown.
Who’s to say what will happen with Dowdle’s ankle, but Turner has proven he’s still more than capable of making an impact against a top-40 defense. It goes to show what having a backfield with significant depth can do in times of crisis, heck even Mon Denson had a couple good carries.
Parker White’s Saga
Poor Parker White. His name has become more synonymous with doom and gloom with Gamecocks fans than Mike Williams. The freshman walk on has struggled significantly out of the gates this season, playing a major part in the loss to Kentucky and making Louisiana Tech interesting before hitting the chip shot game winner.
But Saturday looked to be a turning point in the young kicker’s career, hopefully. White was a perfect three-for-three on field goals, hitting clean looks from 21, 36 and 47 (!!) yards. If South Carolina is going to play Will Muschamp football, their going to need Parker to retain his Saturday form in order to not lose points.
Until the offense can prove it will start finishing drives, White will need to continue making kicks. Because if he’s better, South Carolina’s a 6-1 team right now with a one-possession loss to Texas A&M. Pretty crazy to think about this early into Muschamp’s tenure.
Speaking of which, why can’t the offense finish drives? This was a problem before Deebo and the rest of the line was put on a stretcher and it persisted through Saturday. South Carolina had five drives go into the Tennessee 40 yardline and came away with 15 points. That is not good enough.
Whether it be the Gamecock’s inability to convert running plays on short down-and-distances or getting behind the sticks early on first down incompletions — these are all things I’ve observed the offense do to impede their progress on drives. Not to mention South Carolina has been terrible on fourth down conversions this season.
A lot of fans will point to Kurt Roper’s play calling as the problem. I haven’t studied enough film to make that concrete conclusion, but it something that needs to be looked into. South Carolina has enough competent coaches on staff to try and figure out adjustments if need be, they proved that in the second half Saturday.