Each week, the two sports editors and football beat writers, Josh Lane and Ethan Stone, give their keys and predictions for Tennessee’s weekly matchup. This week, the Vols host South Carolina for first time since 2019.
Let’s talk about the Gamecocks.
1. Hooker takes care of the football
The strength of South Carolina’s team has been its defense, particularly the secondary. The unit as a whole played much better than people give them credit for. Former walk-on Jaylan Foster is tied for the nation’s lead with 4 interceptions, and other defensive players like Brad Johnson (2.0 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss), Jabari Ellis (20 total tackles, 3.0 TFL) and Damani Staley (28 tackles, 2 INT) are playing at a high level.
Hendon Hooker cannot play into South Carolina’s gameplan of creating turnovers – the Gamecocks have 9 total interceptions. Hooker has been careful with the football so far, throwing just one pick across five games, and his 182.46 passer efficiency rating is top-5 in college football. He’ll need to continue that trend for Tennessee to be successful against a good secondary.
2. Force Doty to make plays
Hooker’s counterpart on South Carolina, sophomore Luke Doty, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in 2021. Doty injured his foot at the beginning of the season. Since returning to the starting lineup against Georgia three weeks ago, he’s slowly worked his way back to the former four-star pedigree he once had, passing for 566 yards and 3 touchdowns in three games.
Doty is coming off a career high 255 passing yards against Troy, but he’s still relatively unexperienced, having started only five games in his career – two before this season. South Carolina has a couple of solid play makers on offense in Josh Vann and Kevin Harris. If the Vols can contain those players and force inexperienced Doty to take over the game, they’ll have a much better chance.
1. Bring and keep the hype
Josh Heupel has the Tennessee offense buzzing heading back home against the Gamecocks. There really wasn’t much doubt that he could get the offense moving at Tennessee, but I’m interested to see how his team will handle their moment in the spotlight last week.
South Carolina is around the same level as Missouri – It’s a team that can definitely give the Vols trouble if not taken seriously. A team under a first-year head coach is always in danger of consistency issues, so it is imperative that Tennessee come ready to play at noon Saturday.
Tennessee’s “Dark Mode” jerseys are sure to pump up the crowd and the team, but the Vols will have to keep that hype going through all four quarters in a game where they are heavily favored.
As Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is showing up.”
2. Slow down Jaylan Foster
I’m a sucker for underdog stories, and South Carolina defensive back Jaylan Foster is in the middle of a special one.
Foster is a walk-on turned star for the Gamecocks. As Josh highlighted above, Foster is currently tied for first in interceptions across the entire country, and leads the Gamecocks with 39 tackles through five games. It’s hard to overstate just how important he is to a South Carolina defense that is better than one might think.
So here we go – Tennessee has to make slowing him down a priority. He can be a game-changer when allowed to be, and the last thing the Vols need is another feel-good story to not go their way.
Split: Tennessee -10.5
Tennessee showed last week just what it’s capable of under Josh Heupel’s up-tempo offense. South Carolina actually has a solid defense compared to Mizzou’s no defense strategy. If the Vols can have that same mental preparation that Heupel praised last week, they should have no trouble with the Gamecocks.
I think Hendon Hooker will have another really nice showing, and the Vols waltz past the Gamecocks in that new, clean black jersey.
Tennessee 35, South Carolina 14
If history tells us anything Tennessee will lose this game, or at least struggle against an inferior opponent. Anything can happen in a noon game, right?
Progress just seems to stall for the Vols, but I think Josh Heupel will have the Vols ready to play Saturday. Tennessee wins by double digits two weeks in a row. Evans will have another 100 yard rushing performance and South Carolina will fail to find the endzone on the ground yet again.
Tennessee 38, South Carolina 10