It’s simply about this Saturday
The Gamecocks have not been great in 2018. In fact, there's real disappointment with their 3-3 overall mark, 2-3 in the SEC. It's not been the season anyone in Columbia had hoped.
Looking at South Carolina's remaining schedule, a win Saturday night against the Vols is likely “a must” if Will Muschamp's team is going to go bowling.
The same could be said for the Vols, who, at 3-4 overall, are trying to find three more wins over the next five games.
In other words, “It's a big game for both teams!”---you’ve never heard that in reference to a late October/November SEC game, have you?
I get that phrase is overused, and that Tennessee-South Carolina is not “a big game” like Alabama-LSU will be on November 3, but for Tennessee right now, every game that is a possible win is big. Playing in December---practicing in December---would mean the an extra spring practice for Jeremy Pruitt.
Of course, we said that when Lane Kiffin was the coach. And when Derek Dooley was the coach. And when Butch Jones was the coach.
The main different now is that Tennessee has been down for over a decade and the collective negativism has beaten Vol fans to a pulp. Any positive---like an win over South Carolina and a bowl trip, which used to be givens---means even more at this moment in time for Tennessee.
But I have contended for a few weeks that the set-up is grim for the Big Orange. In the (unfortunately) easiest prediction in my time on the beat, I forecast that Tennessee would be coming off a beat-down by otherworldly Alabama. Add to that South Carolina is coming off a bye week.
But now I question my own thinking in fretting over Tennessee’s circumstances.
How big of a deal is it when Alabama beats you both physically and on the scoreboard? Not as bad as it's perceived. Since 2016, SEC teams are 6-8 against other SEC teams the week after they play Alabama. Since 2009, SEC teams are 33-33 the week after Alabama, playing in and out of conference.
Specifically, Tennessee is 4-7 the week after a defeat at the hands of the Tide in this current losing streak (2007-2017). Two of those four wins were overtime victories against South Carolina. So wins haven't been easy for Tennessee following the third Saturday in October, but overall the Vols are just 75-71 since the start of the 2007 season.
Not much a difference really.
As for the bye week narrative, SEC teams are 2-2 following a bye in 2018 after going just 4-10 last season following off-weeks.
In the end, the numbers mean nothing. “The Alabama Effect” is zilch. This week is simply about this week.
And advancing this shaky program.
South Carolina has a better team, but hasn’t played like it recently. Maybe they will after the bye. Maybe they will put it all together. And then, maybe they won’t.
Tennessee is trying to get over being embarrassed by a team that would have beaten them even if the Vols had played their best game of the season. Pruitt’s charge this week is to get this team to not only improve, but to BELIEVE that they can win in Columbia. Will we see meek group of shaky soldiers that wilted in the face of the West Virginia and Florida, or the group of guys who didn’t look scared at Georgia and then went to Auburn and burned down the Loveliest Village on the Plains?
It’s a decent match-up and a real chance for the Vols, one that will come down to whether Tennessee can make plays offensively, force turnovers defensively and handle adversity as a team.
None of this is affected by who played whom or who didn't play a week ago.
It’s about who shows up in the white jerseys. If Tennessee shows up and plays with confidence, the Vols still might lose. But they fall for certain if they are not over what happened last Saturday in Knoxville.
“It’s not easy for me at all, it’s hard. I’m still disappointed, but we’ve got to move on to South Carolina. We can’t let a game like that deter us from what we’re trying to do in these next five weeks,” Drew Richmond said.