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October 18, 2013
After scoring 28 points in the second half against the Bulldogs, Tennessee gained confidence particularly on offense with three scoring drives of 75 yards or more. It was the Vols ability to convert on 3rd and 4th down particularly in the passing game that got Tennessee into a real rhythm for the first time this season. The question now is can the Vols find that rhythm to start the game.
In Tennessee's three losses this season they have been outscored 72-17 in the first half. And in those three losses, they have only converted 8 of 23 third down attempts in the first half of those games.
It's imperative that the Vols get off to a good start offensively against a South Carolina team that's scoring in bunches in the first half outscoring their last two opponents 48-14.
For the Vol defense, the first challenge starts in trying to defend quarterback Conner Shaw. Shaw has shown the ability to make more throws than ever with his arm and he's always used his feet to extend plays and create problems for defenses. But it's not just Shaw that's making plays for the Gamecock offense. You have to dig to find it, but Carolina running back Mike Davis is leading the SEC in rushing at 123.7 yards a game and is averaging 6.7 yards a carry. Davis has 9 touchdowns including a 75 yard run earlier in the year. Defensive line coach Steve Stripling feels Davis' game causes you plenty of concern.
"Their running back presents a problem in that he has really outstanding feet," Stripling said. "He can actually enter the line of scrimmage and pop back out of the line of scrimmage so putting an edge on the defense with our ends is a big concern."
Tennessee will be breaking in a new kickoff return man. With Vincent Dallas no longer on the team, freshman Malik Foreman is slated to handle kickoff return duties.
There are a lot of intriguing and challenging match-ups for the Vols. Obviously, the Clowney-Richardson showdown has been talked about for months. But the bigger challenge for the Vols is on the defensive side and the challenge in slowing down quarterback Conner Shaw. Shaw has thrown 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in completing 68.5% of his throws. Shaw has also rushed for 319 yards and 2 scores.
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling said Shaw presents plenty of issues.
"The quarterback is outstanding," Stripling said. "He extends plays meaning I don't think he necessarily think he scrambles to scramble. He scrambles to find a better position to throw the ball and that's what makes him dangerous. He's really great at extending plays.
Everyone knew coming into this season that the Vol running game had to be successful and hand to help a passing game that was going to be a work in progress. Running back Rajion Neal is doing his part. Neal has 317 yards the last two games on 53 carries, an average of nearly 6 yards a carry. In the second half against Georgia, Neal had 100 yards on 15 carries.
The senior is playing his best football and is preparing to play with a focus that he's never had before.
MAXIM THAT MATTERS
Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE
To beat the Gamecocks, Tennessee must get some breaks and create some breaks. South Carolina quarterback Conner Shaw hasn't thrown an interception all year and two weeks ago Tennessee's defense didn't force a turnover. The Vols must force some mistakes from South Carolina and they need the Gamecocks to help them.
And if South Carolina does help the Vols with mistakes Tennessee must take advantage. Tennessee didn't do that at Florida and the result was a loss.
The bottom line is Tennessee must turn South Carolina mistakes into points.
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
Gamecockcentral.com's Chris Clark gives a detailed look from South Carolina's point of view leading up to the game on Saturday.
Obviously, Marcus Lattimore holds a special place in South Carolina history and deservedly so, but is it a stretch to say that Mike Davis is having as a good a season through six games that Lattimore had at any point in his career?
I think that is fair to say on Davis. Lattimore had a huge hand in changing the South Carolina program from the time he committed to the Gamecocks until the time he left for many reasons. He helped to change the perception of the program, continued leading the charge of USC's turning around its fortunes with in-state recruiting, is one of the most highly-respected college players maybe ever and on the field had some huge performances. Mike Davis has not had a 200-yard game like Lattimore had more than once (think Florida in 2010), but he has put up over 100 yards in five out of his first six games (something Lattimore never did) and has scored a touchdown in every game. There are some similarities in terms of vision, always going forward, and being a physical runner but I don't think there is any doubt that Davis has more home run ability. It must be mentioned that the offensive line Davis is running behind is probably better than any group that Lattimore ran behind and the quarterback play and receivers as a group also are stronger on the whole. Each deserves plenty of accolades for their accomplishments.
Last week's blowout win over Arkansas was certainly impressive, but the way the defense bottled up Arkansas' passing game was especially impressive. Was that more South Carolina dominating or Arkansas being terrible at passing the ball?
I would say it was a bit of both as far as USC being able to shut down Arkansas' passing game. A big part of it was that South Carolina's best defense was its offense. The Gamecocks held the ball for a little over 43 minutes so the team obviously dominated the clock. Arkansas was only able to run 37 offensive plays and being a running team, only 12 of those plays were passes. Astonishingly, Arkansas managed 9.1 yards per carry on the ground thanks to some long runs but two of those resulted in fumbles. USC still showed some issues such as missing tackles, but no doubt it was the best performance of the season for the defense and the team got a big assist from USC's offensive dominance.
This seems to be an interesting game because both teams have shown different identities the last time they were on the field compared to weeks before, what do you see as the critical matchups in this week's game?
I think the key matchup for South Carolina's defense is up front against Tennessee's offensive line. Everyone talks about Clowney versus Richardson, but the rest of the Vol front is talented too and USC has some other solid players on its defensive line. That Gamecock d-line has to get penetration and the back seven for the Gamecocks will need to tackle better particularly against a player I think is underrated in Rajion Neal. If USC can make Tennessee a third and long passing team, it should be a good day. Alton Howard is a concern too when he gets into space on reverses, jet sweeps, and with his runs after the catch.
For Tennessee, the Vols have to create turnovers. USC has actually only punted a handful more times than the team has turned the ball over so it's when USC has got in its own way that the offense has been stopped. With USC playing a smaller guy at center and right guard Ronald Patrick being at a minimum banged up going into the game, Vol DT Daniel McCullers is a key guy in my mind. A.J. Johnson is also stellar against the run. Mike Davis is one of the league's best backs and if he can get into the second level could have a big day. Connor Shaw has been extremely efficient and I think USC's receivers and tight ends could have a good day as well. For Tennessee, it's all about winning up front, stopping the run and trying to force Shaw into some mistakes that have been rare this season.