Saturday’s game against the South Carolina Gamecocks is an incredibly important matchup for the Tennessee Vols.
Getting a win against South Carolina would put the Vols in a great position to reach bowl eligibility. Tennessee needs three more wins to reach six for the season. Beating the Gamecocks would guarantee the Volunteers reach five wins this season (the game against UNC-Charlotte on November 3 will almost certainly be a win).
That would mean UT would only have to win one game out of their matchups against Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. That’s certainly a doable task for the Vols. In fact, a win against South Carolina would put seven wins this season within reach for Tennessee (which would be an amazing turnaround for a team that is coming off its worst season in program history).
So what do the Vols have to do to leave Columbia with a win on Saturday night?
I think there are two key things that have to happen.
Disrupt Jake Bentley
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley has plenty of talent. And he has plenty of experience. If the Vols let him get comfortable on Saturday, Bentley’s more than capable of beating Tennessee.
But if the Volunteers can get to Bentley early, it can change the tone of the game. Bentley is a very emotional guy. Those emotions, however, can sometimes work against the South Carolina signal caller.
Caller on Carolina Calls: “What can we do to calm Jake Bentley down at the beginning of games?”
Bryan McClendon: “We (our receivers) need to catch the football.”
— Mike Gillespie (@MikeABCColumbia) October 25, 2018
If Tennessee can get pressure on Bentley, and if the secondary can be disruptive, then it could lead to plenty of interception opportunities for the Volunteers’ defensive backs.
In South Carolina’s loss to Kentucky, Bentley was 13-of-28 for 148 yards and three interceptions. That’s the same path to victory Tennessee will have to take on Saturday night.
Getting Bentley rattled early is the Vols’ best chance to beat South Carolina for the first time since 2015.
Someone has to have a big game for UT
The Vols need a big game from someone, anyone, on Saturday night.
Someone on offense has to “take over” the game against South Carolina.
In the Gamecocks’ three losses, there was someone on the other side of the field that stood out offensively.
For Texas A&M, it was Jace Sternberger (7 receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown). For Kentucky, it was Benny Snell Jr with 113 total yards. Mecole Hardman had six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown in Georgia’s win against South Carolina.
The Vols need someone, either running back Ty Chandler or a wide receiver (Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway or Josh Palmer) to step up and take control of the game on Saturday night.
If Tennessee can affect Bentley’s emotions, and if someone steps up and has a big offensive game for the Vols, I think Jeremy Pruitt leaves Columbia with his second road SEC win.
Featured image via John Reed/USA Today Sports