South Carolina has been idle since posting a 14-12 win over Mississippi State on October 15. That was the second win in a row for the Gamecocks, who suffered their only loss of the season to Auburn by three points.
"We're going to go in there and celebrate becoming bowl eligible," said South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier after the most recent win. "That's something we're never going to take for granted. That's an accomplishment."
At 4-1 in the conference, South Carolina is tied with Georgia atop the SEC East standings, and the Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs in the second game of the season.
As for Tennessee, it has suffered three consecutive losses to fall to 3-4 after a promising start to the campaign. Last weekend, the Crimson Tide of Alabama destroyed the Vols in a 37-6 final, and Derek Dooley's club is now a woeful 0-4 versus SEC competition.
"We're just really a fragile, fragile football team right now," said Dooley. "We got to harden up a little bit."
Tennessee owns a dominant 22-5-2 series advantage over South Carolina, but the Gamecocks won last season's matchup by a 38-24 final.
There wasn't much offense generated by South Carolina in the narrow win over Mississippi State last time out, but the team made a big play when it was needed the most. QB Connor Shaw and WR Alshon Jeffery hooked up for a four- yard TD with under four minutes remaining in regulation to claim the win. Unfortunately, the victory came with a heavy dose of bad news, as star tailback Marcus Lattimore suffered a serious knee injury, ending his season on a sour note.
"Our worst fears were realized," said Spurrier. "Marcus has a torn ligament and a little bit of cartilage damage in there. It's very unfortunate, flukish- type injury that occurred."
True freshman Brandon Wilds is expected to start in place of Lattimore, but he has only carried the ball 13 times all season, so expectations must be tempered. Obviously, more pressure will fall on the passing attack. Shaw has thrown five TDs with only two INTs while completing 64.1 percent of his passes, and Jeffery has 451 yards and five TDs to his credit this season.
Obviously, the South Carolina defense deserves a ton of credit for limiting Mississippi State to 12 points in front of its home crowd. The Gamecocks yielded only 296 total yards in that affair, including just 3.5 yards per rushing attempt. The pass defense was tremendously impressive, as the Bulldogs managed to connect on only 11-of-30 throws with a pair of INTs.
Opponents are scoring 19.1 ppg against South Carolina while gaining 277.6 total ypg through seven games. The Gamecocks have given up their fair share of big pass plays, but they have also notched 14 INTs to go along with 10 fumble recoveries. The 24 takeaways are a staggering total to say the least, especially when combined with 15 sacks. Melvin Ingram is worthy of mention, as he has nine TFL thus far, including 5.5 sacks.
Switching focus to Tennessee, it failed to score a single touchdown last week against Alabama, managing just a pair of field goals in 60 minutes of action. The Vols posted a grand total of six first downs in the affair and managed only 155 total yards against one of the truly elite defenses in all of college football. Matt Simms was completely ineffective under center, and while tailback Tauren Poole ran hard as usual, just 67 rushing yards were gained on his 19 carries.
While Tennessee made good on only 2-of-14 third-down conversion attempts last week, it permitted Alabama to move the chains on 7-of-14 tries. The Crimson Tide finished with 437 total yards and scored four offensive touchdowns, including three on the ground. In reality, however, the Vols were better against the run than the pass, as they permitted only 3.8 yards per rushing attempt while surrendering 16.3 yards per pass completion.
Tennessee is averaging 25.1 ppg and 350.4 total ypg, but those figures will likely continue to shrink without Tyler Bray, the team's top QB who suffered a season-ending injury a few weeks ago. Coach Dooley announced this week that freshman Justin Worley will start at QB for the Vols against the Gamecocks. Worley made his debut last week in the fourth quarter of the Alabama game, but he did not attempt a pass. Da'Rick Rogers has six receiving TDs to his credit this season, and he has gained 608 yards on his 37 catches. As for Poole, he has run for 462 yards.
The Vols are permitting 25.3 ppg and 362.7 total ypg to opponents, and 20 touchdowns have been allowed to opposing offenses. With only two interceptions registered and four fumble recoveries notched, Tennessee clearly lacks big- play ability.