Tennessee will be looking for too come out of the gate strong against South Carolina in a game that will look unlike any other season opener this century.
“I mean we got to play aggressive” head coach Jeremy Pruitt said “knowing that we’ll make mistakes in the game. We got to play with confidence. Don’t turn the ball over, get turnovers. All the coach speak, you know? Create explosive plays, gang tackle, score touchdowns when we get in the red area, keep them from doing it. That’s what wins and loses games. We’ve got 60 minutes to prove that we’re the best team on Saturday.”
This matchup will be the Vols’ latest opening game since 1962 when they faced Auburn on Sept. 29. Similarly, Tennessee has not faced a fellow SEC in their opener since 1988 when they opened with Georgia. Finally, the Vols have not played a true road since 2008 when they traveled to Pasadena, California to take on UCLA.
Tennessee is 91-26-6 all-time in season openers, but they have fared well in recent years losing to West Virginia and Georgia State. Their most recent opening weekend win was in 2017 over Georgia Tech in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Vols enter the game riding a six-game winning streak, which ranks fifth in the FBS and third in the Power 5 conferences. The beginning of Tennessee’s streak actually came on Oct. 26, when the Vols we able to rout the Gamecocks in Neyland.
Three players on the Tennessee roster who will be expected to contribute, Defensive backs Bryce Thompson, wide receiver Jalin Hyatt and punter Paxton Brooks, all grew up roughly 12 miles from Columbia, so Saturday’s game will be in familiar surroundings for those Vols.
Despite last year’s victory and Tennessee leading the overall series 26-10-2, the series has been much closer in Columbia as the Vols have a slim 9-7-2 lead and they have not won in Williams-Bryce since stealing an overtime win in 2014.
South Carolina enters the fifth season of the Will Muschamp era after a disappointing fourth year. Opposite to Tennessee’s strong finish, the Gamecocks stumbled to the finish line, losing five of their final six games to end the campaign 4-8.
“I’m excited for our players. I’m excited for our staff.” Muschamp said “Our school, our fanbase. Just excited to get back for college football. Get back to some normalcy here in the Southeastern Conference, here at the University of South Carolina. Can’t wait to kick it off here on Saturday night.”
Muschamp also spoke about what went wrong for his team in last year’s Vols matchup, remarking how difficult it is to be successful when giving up 14 points on special teams, giving up many explosive passes and getting shut for quarters.
Despite last year’s primary starter Ryan Hilinski returning this year, South Carolina will be starting transfer Collin Hill as the offense has changed under new coordinator Mike Bobo. On the other side of the ball, linebacker Ernest Jones will return to lead the defense for another year.
Kickoff is 7:39 p.m. ET on SEC and Vol Networks.