The Cheat Sheet
Saturday afternoon, the Vols resume their search for their first SEC win and try to avoid being the first team since 1988 to enter the month of November without a conference win. To do that, Derek Dooley's squad will need to play their best on the road in an early game. A combination that was not good three weeks ago at Georgia. What's key for the Vols to pull off an upset? Here's this week's Cheat Sheet.
1. Give the quarterback a chance - South Carolina has struggled mightily in the secondary. They are last in the SEC giving up 252.4 yards a game through the air. They were so poor that at Vanderbilt to simplify things they only played man coverage. However, they lead the SEC in sacks with 24. So it's kind of feast or famine for offenses in the passing game. One would think that Tennessee could have some success moving the ball through the air, but only if the quarterback is upright. With Matt Simms nursing a tender knee, protecting him is a must. The offensive line should have more confidence coming out of Saturday's play against the Tide, but they will need to have a better week this week because the Gamecocks pass rush is better.
2. Get off the field - Regardless of the coaching staff, Steve Spurrier's offenses have thrived on third down against the Vols. And this Gamecock team is winning on third down this season. Spurrier's offense is coverting 54% of their third downs. Defensively, the Vols have struggled to get off the field. Last week, Alabama was 7 of 13 in third down conversions. In SEC play, opponents are 26 of 53 against Justin Wilcox in converting 3rd downs. Getting off the field is a must for the Vol defense.
3. Get your mind right - Early games have not been good for the Vols. At Georgia, the Vols fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter turning it over twice and allowing the Bulldogs to score on every possession. Against UAB, it was 14-7 Tennessee after one quarter, but the Blazers also missed a field goal. In the two noon starts this year, the Vol defense has given up 4 scores in 6 possessions and a missed field goal. South Carolina has played well at home all year and they will be ready to play Saturday afternoon. The Gamecocks have outscored their opponents 70-16 in the first quarter. Tennessee must mentally be prepared to play an early game for the first time all year.
4. Manage the 3rd quarter - The third quarter has been a disaster all year outside of the UT-Martin game. Since the season opener, the Vols have been outscored 74-14 to start the second half. In the last two games, it's 35-7. Last week, Alabama scored 21 points, had 200 yards of offense, and gave up three plays over 35 yards. Credit the opponents for making halftime adjustments, but the Vols must figure out how to regain their intensity coming out of the locker room to start the second half. If they don't, then the fourth quarter won't mean anything Saturday afternoon at the fairgrounds in Columbia.