The calendar has flipped to October, the temperature is (maybe, hopefully) finally starting to cool down, and the South Carolina-Tennessee matchup has arrived, so you know spooky season is officially here. More so than the fact this game features a lot of orange and black, the Gamecocks and Volunteers tend to produce some weird, wild, and wacky stuff when they get together, and playing in Knoxville can be particularly frightful. Let’s take a look at Tennessee.
What have they been up to lately? After an 41-34 ugly season-opening loss to Pittsburgh, the Vols dispatched Tennessee Tech 56-0 and then hung in there for about a half against Florida before succumbing to the Gators, 38-14. Most recently, though, Tennessee was seen lighting up the scoreboard against a very accommodating Missouri defense, torching the Tigers 62-24. The “Is Tennessee BACK?” hype train is starting to acquire some passengers, as an offensive performance like that will certainly make your team the talk of the town.
What happens when the Gamecocks have the ball? I’m hoping to see a version of Kevin Harris that more closely resembles the one we saw dominate last year, and therefore a more productive and reliable run game. He was really picking up some steam by the end of the Troy game, so I’m crossing my fingers that was a sign that he’s finally getting back to himself. I’d also like to see more targets for E.J. Jenkins, who had a nice performance against the Trojans and is Notably Huge. This offense is still desperate for someone, anyone, to be a consistent workhorse, and there’s no time like the present for that guy to emerge.
What happens when the Volunteers have the ball? After injury knocked out former starter Joe Milton, quarterback Hendon Hooker has taken the reins for Tennessee and provided steady, efficient leadership for the Vols offense, sporting a 68.5% completion percentage and throwing 10 touchdowns against only interception. The Gamecocks’ secondary, which has been a strength of this defense-oriented team, definitely needs to come to play, although I’m most worried about Hooker’s dual-threat ability and a Tennessee rushing attack that’s averaging 255 yards per game (good for second in the SEC). This USC defensive line, while it has overall performed well, will be in for a test.
What are we wearing? Probably all-white again, but it’s hard to say since this is just the second road game of the season and Georgia handled us in the Stormtrooper getup. I assume we’ll avoid black pants because of UT’s alternate uniforms (which are very bad, in my opinion), but I’d love to see some garnet britches.
How are we feeling about this? Honestly? Not great! I’ve been trying to talk myself off the ledge after watching Tennessee blow Missouri out of the water last week while the Gamecocks were struggling in one of the ugliest, most bizarre games I’ve seen them play in a while (which says a lot!), but I haven’t been too successful. If South Carolina had been similarly ruthless in its treatment of Troy, I might not feel as anxious, but aside from the fact USC did manage to win, you couldn’t have a pair of more opposite performances to compare. I’m mostly clinging to the wisdom of Lou Holtz — you’re never as good as your best performance and never as bad as your worst, or something to that effect — but I don’t have high hopes here.