This match-up hasn't been a fun one for South Carolina the past two seasons. After letting the Vols spoil the Gamecocks chances at an appearance in the SEC Championship game in 2013, Tennessee came into Columbia last year with more mischief, capping off a string of fourth quarter collapses for the Gamecocks with a 45-42 overtime win.
The 2015 match-up flips the script with the Volunteers as heavy favorites. And for the second consecutive week the Gamecocks hit the road looking to play spoiler. Here's three keys to the game.
1. A disruptive defense. Week in and week out, South Carolina fans and coaches hope and pray that some kind of disruptive force shows up for the Gamecocks defensively. A weak defense has been the achilles heel for South Carolina the past two years, and it's got to end soon. Right?
The Vols run their offense with tempo and rely on it for success. If the Gamecocks can create any kind of disturbance in the back field and slow down the Vols rushing attack, they'll throw Joshua Dobbs and the rest of the offense off kilter. While Dobbs has made some immense strides in his passing game, he still has a tendency to revert to poor technique and inaccuracy. Dobbs will have to be off his game Saturday if the Gamecocks plan on pulling off the upset. To get him off his game though, the Gamecocks D will need to prevent a steady pace from the Vols offense.
2. Supportive pass catchers. We knew coming into the season the Gamecocks were thin at receiver behind Pharoh Cooper. But, we also thought some one would eventually fill the void as second-best option. Unfortunately, due in large part to a hamstring injury that's kept Deebo Samuel sidelined, no one has stepped up to serve as a viable second option. While we've seen glimpses from guys like DJ Neal, we've lacked consistency. Walk-on Hayden Hurst has stepped up in big moments to make some plays, and is slowing becoming Perry Orth's target.
Orth will need to do his best to spread the ball around and the receivers need to limit mistakes. The passing game for South Carolina isn't good enough to let opportunities slip through the fingers. We'll need a big game out of Neal and tight end Jerell Adams.
3. A special Special Teams. We all know how important of a role punter Sean Kelly has played for the Gamecocks consistently pinning teams deep in their own territory. But, it'll be up to the punt and kick coverage to stop Vols playmakers Evan Berry and Cameron Sutton and prevent a devastating play. Berry returned a kick-off for a 100-yard touchdown and Sutton followed suit with his on 84-yard punt return for a touchdown to propel the Vols to 52-21 blowout over the Kentucky Wildcats last Saturday.
That can't happen this weekend if the Gamecocks have any hope of sticking around late in the fourth quarter. With all the pressure on the Gamecocks offense to cap off red-zone appearances and the defense to bring some sort of backbone, Shawn Elliot can't forget about special teams. Hopefully Tennessee's break-out last week provided enough of a reminder.
Prediction: The Gamecocks are 0-3 in revenge games this year. Let's get at least one.
South Carolina 28 - Tennessee 24.