After starting the year with an 0-2 record in the SEC, the Gamecocks will have another shot at getting in the win column this Saturday afternoon against the Tennessee Volunteers.
South Carolina is coming off a win straight up and against the spread versus Troy to bring the team’s record to 3-2 overall and an impressive 3-1-1 ATS. USC may have covered, but it didn’t really feel like that much of a victory.
Tennessee enters this game 3-2 overall and 2-3 ATS, but all the momentum is on its side following a statement victory at Missouri last week that, frankly, no one expected to unfold how it did.
Up to that point in the year, the Volunteers had not really shown us anything beyond beating up on bad teams and losing expectedly to better ones. So, blowing out an SEC squad by 38 and putting on a running clinic to that extent was rather unexpected.
I’m not sure if the line this week is simply a response to last week’s Tennessee team, a lack of confidence in the Gamecocks or both, but this week’s line is obviously leaning one way over the other.
The Volunteers are currently favored over the Gamecocks by 10.5, according to VegasInsider.com. While that may look like a little much, it’s still better than 12, which is where the line opened.
ESPN’s FPI gives South Carolina a 21.2% chance of victory against Tennessee.
The over/under is set at 57, but you could find it as low as 56 at certain books.
Why was the line set at this number?
I’m going to start by saying while I agree completely with the line, the total is absolute insanity. Those numbers are completely incompatible.
If I use up all 57 points and assume Tennessee covers by half a point, that leaves me with a predicted final score of 34-23 Tennessee.
That means the Volunteers would have to double the most points scored on South Carolina all year (not counting Georgia) AND the Gamecocks would have to score 24 points on an SEC defense, which is not happening no matter how suspect the Tennessee defense may look at times.
I am aware that Tennessee has only scored less than 34 one time this year, but the Volunteers haven’t exactly played a respectable defense either other than Florida.
To play devil’s advocate on myself, Tennessee has also looked like a team that runs the football well — especially after racking up 458 total yards on the ground last week — and that is where the Gamecocks struggle.
I’m going to assume the oddsmakers are calling for the Volunteers to dismantle the Gamecock defense because the total is so high and USC will not be scoring many points if things don’t change offensively. I won’t bank on the offense being fixed at a place like Neyland Stadium either.
What will have to happen for the Gamecocks to cover?
My keys to covering this week are stopping the Volunteer run game, keeping the game low-scoring, keeping the turnovers coming and simply having a pulse offensively.
South Carolina has allowed more than 100 yards rushing in every game this year with the exception of Eastern Illinois. Tennessee must know that too.
If they can make Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker uncomfortable and force him to pass first as opposed to run, that could lead to some success.
Basically, the defensive game plan needs to look similar to how they approached Bo Nix in last year’s win over Auburn. He did not have much success on the ground and when he threw, it ended up getting picked three times.
I think keeping the game low scoring is important as well because I think it’s obvious at this point that the Gamecocks would lose in a shootout or struggle to score, period.
Turnovers are also key because this team has to help out its offense any way it can, and giving Luke Doty a short field to work with would do the trick.
What’s the better bet?
Analysis aside, letdown spots are real.
Tennessee had a big, emotional victory last week with morale running high. What usually happens the next week? They fall flat.
Right now is the highest Tennessee stock will be all year after crushing Missouri. No one expects them to lose or almost lose to the Gamecocks, right?
I think last week’s win left a bad taste in the mouths of South Carolina players and they will come to Knoxville focused and ready to shock some people.
I’m taking the Cocks here plus the points but still calling for a Tennessee victory in the three to 10-point range.