COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - When it comes down to how their first six games went, South Carolina players and coaches admit the season hasn’t gone the way they wanted it to.
Standing at 3-3 overall and in fourth place in the SEC East race, the Gamecocks understand that self-inflicted mistakes cost them valuable opportunities in the first half of their season. Now that their bye week has come and gone, the Gamecocks are hopeful to make the most of what’s left of their 2018 campaign starting with this weekend’s Homecoming matchup against Tennessee.
“3-3 is not where we want to be,” said Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley, “but it’s where we are though. It’s where we are right now and I think all the guys understand that and understand that we’ve got to get better to improve. That’s the mindset we have. I thought we had a great off week. A lot of guys got a lot better. We were able to focus on what we have to do to get better.”
Tennessee enters Saturday night’s matchup against the Gamecocks coming off a 58-21 loss to top-ranked Alabama. Like USC, the Vols find themselves in a less than desirable spot in the SEC East race with a 3-4 overall record and just one conference win. Under first-year head coach and former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee looks to avoid a third-straight loss to the Gamecocks and a sixth consecutive setback to Will Muschamp.
"When you look at South Carolina, all of Coach (Will) Muschamp's teams have always been well coached,” said Pruitt. “They're physical, they play hard. They're opening it up offensively and they're spreading the ball around. They've got good wide receivers, good runners. They play hard on defense and they get off the field on third down.We've got a tremendous challenge this week. I think it's a great opportunity for us. It's a hard place to win, in Columbia, especially at night. It's a tremendous challenge for our team moving forward."
The Vols haven’t been the most productive team on offense this season. Among all SEC teams, Tennessee is last in total yards per game (350.6) and rush yards per game (140.7), 12th in total points per game (25.9), and 10th in passing yards per game (209.9). Still, the Gamecocks aren’t overlooking what this Tennessee offense is capable of with Jarrett Guarantano and Keller Chryst taking the snaps at quarterback.
“What really strikes you when you watch the tape is the deep balls,” said Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp. “(He’s) very accurate with the deep balls. He’s got a good corps of receivers that does a really good job down the field finishing on plays down the field. Keller Chryst came in in the last game, a transfer from Stanford, and did a fantastic job against Alabama. (He) was very efficient. They’re very similar skill-set guys. I don’t see a lot of difference in what they do or what they call from the standpoint of what they call (depending) on who’s in the ball game. We’ll be prepared for both guys.”
Jauan Jennings is the top target for the Vols. He has 23 catches for 309 yards and two touchdowns this season. However, Ty Chandler is also a threat in the Vols passing game. He leads the team with three touchdown catches.
Leading the Vols’ rushing attack is Tim Jordan. The sophomore has 334 yards and two touchdowns. Madre London and Jeremy Banks are also critical to the Tennessee run game. They each have three rushing touchdowns to their credit.
Defensively, the Volunteers rank 10th in total defense (385.1 yards per game), passing defense (223.1 yards per game), and rushing defense (162 yards per game). Tennessee is led in tackles by junior linebacker Daniel Bituli with 39. He is joined by fellow linebacker Darrell Taylor leading the team with three sacks. Former Dutch Fork alum and freshman defensive back Bryce Thompson has a team-high two interceptions. Thompson previously committed to South Carolina before making his way up to Tennessee.
“I’m happy for Bryce,” Muschamp said when asked about the former Silver Fox. “He did an outstanding job while he was here in [Irmo] at Dutch Fork High School and he’s having a great start to his career at Tennessee. I’m really happy for him.”