Vols vs Tennessee Tech football

Hendon Hooker, #5, dives into the end-zone, in the football game against Tennessee Tech, held in the Neyland Stadium on September 18th.

South Carolina is one of Tennessee’s longest-tenured rivals. The Vols have been playing the Gamecocks since 1903 across three different conferences — Southern, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern.

Saturday the two storied programs will hold their 40th meeting.

Monday, head coach Josh Heupel announced that Hendon Hooker will officially be handed the reigns of the offense against the Gamecocks. This is the first clear indicator of Hooker being “The Guy” for Tennessee after some uncertainty with Joe Milton to start the season.

This announcement follows a masterclass performance against Mizzou from Hooker in a 62-24 winning effort, one that earned him a Manning Award Star of the Week with 15-of-19 completed passes for 225 yards and 3 touchdowns.

“He’s got great comfort and understanding of what we are doing,” Heupel said. “ He’s been really in control of what’s going on at the line of scrimmage. He’s really good with his eyes, and that’s allowed him to be really decisive with the football, and was extremely accurate the other day. A lot of that stems from his eyes being in the right place and seeing things clearly.”

The Vols are looking to pick up their 28th win over South Carolina, a team that seemingly had a lot in common with the Vols preseason. The Vols opened as 12-point favorites for Saturday.

First-year coach Shane Beamer took over South Carolina at a low point in its acclaimed history. Beamer and the Gamecocks are trying to avoid their third consecutive losing season, something the team hasn’t seen since Lou Holtz went 0-11 in 1999, after posting 5-6 and 1-10 records the seasons prior.

The Gamecocks are one of five SEC schools that have not won a game in conference play, joining Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Missouri.

The Gamecocks have struggled to move the ball on offense, but their threat on the ground is almost nonexistent. South Carolina has 1 touchdown in 174 rushing attempts, far and away the worst margin in the SEC. Only LSU and Mississippi State average less rushing yards per game.

It doesn’t get much better in the pass game, either. Zeb Noland got the starting job in September after joining the team as a offensive graduate assistant. Noland played well to start the year, throwing for 5 touchdowns and 1 interception with a passer rating of 124 before injuring his throwing hand against Georgia.

Sophomore quarterback Luke Doty got the nod in relief, putting up similar numbers. Beamer has not named a starting quarterback against Tennessee this week as Noland’s hand progresses.

“Zeb is fine,” Beamer said to South Carolina media. “He could’ve played last week (against Kentucky in week four).”

Doty started in South Carolina’s 23-14 win over Troy in week five following Beamer’s statement.

South Carolina has offensive woes, but its secondary can present a challenge for Tennessee. Jaylan Foster is one of the top defensive backs in the country, tied for first in the nation with 4 interceptions. Foster leads the Gamecocks with 39 tackles in five games.

The Gamecocks also have the fifth best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 17.4 points per game this season.

Despite the Vols’ big performance against Mizzou, Heupel isn’t interested in overlooking a struggling SEC opponent.

“College football is 12 one-week seasons. If you get into comparing scores from every game every week you’ll go crazy,” Heupel said. “I talked to the team about that earlier. Everything is about this week now.”

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