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South Carolina vs. Tennessee: Three keys

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What we’d like to see in tonight’s season opener.

Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’ve made it through the longest, strangest offseason on record, and believe it or not, it’s finally game day, when we’ll see the South Carolina Gamecocks take on the Tennessee Volunteers at Williams-Brice Stadium this evening. Season openers are notoriously hard to predict, and games against Tennessee even more so, but here’s a stab at what the Gamecocks will need to do to emerge victorious.

Score some points

Yeah, I know — it’s the object of the game, and sounds ridiculous when I put it that way. But the South Carolina offense has been moribund for a long time, and only scored 24 total points in the last three games we saw them play. Coach Will Muschamp himself has repeatedly pointed out the team’s red zone issues, and new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo (with transfer quarterback Collin Hill) is here to hopefully save the day. I don’t expect to see an offense firing on all cylinders in Week 1, especially against an experienced Tennessee defense, but I will absolutely be looking to see if the Gamecocks appear to have a cohesive identity and some semblance of knowing what they’re about. For too long, this team’s primary offensive approach has just been throwing various concepts at the wall and hoping something sticks.

Get to Jarrett Guarantano

Tennessee’s senior quarterback has seen his share of ups and downs with inconsistent play throughout his career, and if the Gamecocks are going to be successful in this one, it’ll likely come down to generating consistent pressure on Guarantano and baiting him into a turnover or two. Luckily, the Gamecocks have personnel on the defensive side of the ball that could accomplish just that. Although the line must handle the loss of Javon Kinlaw, veterans Aaron Sterling and Keir Thomas, along with youngsters like Zacch Pickens, has that unit set up well to move on. The secondary, anchored by Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu, is even stronger, and South Carolina should be able to rely on its defense to do some heavy lifting this year.

Limit the mistakes

This is important in any game, of course, but especially for a team that’s very young and unproven on offense with a new staff in place. The running back corps is particularly green and could be prone to doing-too-much types of fumbles, while the tight ends and receivers are also largely anonymous outside of Nick Muse and Shi Smith, respectively. This will be the first extended action a lot of these players have seen, so no one should expect to see a well-oiled machine, but this team just doesn’t have the margin of error to withstand one too many turnovers or boneheaded penalties.