The Tennessee Volunteers know that with wins over Alabama and LSU in their pocket, they have a great chance to make the College Football Playoff if they win out and finish 11-1.
By Matt Zemek
Remember, they didn’t just beat LSU; they crushed the Tigers, and they did so in Baton Rouge. They have a great case to make if they win out, and if they get just one piece of help – TCU or USC losing – it’s going to be hard to exclude them from the playoff party. They don’t need to worry about scenarios; they just need to worry about beating the team in front of them, the South Carolina Gamecocks in a road night game. This should be straightforward, but the Vols need to prepare as though the Gamecocks are Georgia.
1 – Protect Hendon Hooker
South Carolina knows it has to disrupt Hooker and bother him if it wants to have any chance of pulling off the upset. Josh Heupel and his staff need to make sure they scheme protections which enable the Vols to be ready for various lines of attack from the South Carolina pass rush. This is where Tennessee has to be supremely prepared and can’t afford to be caught off guard. South Carolina’s defense isn’t spectacular, but it did win games for the Gamecocks in 2022, chiefly against Kentucky and Texas A&M. If Josh Heupel has his guys prepared, this game should go relatively smoothly.
2 – Take away the run
South Carolina and Spencer Rattler are not going to win this game by throwing 45 times. South Carolina has to run the ball – not only to take pressure off Rattler and the passing game, but to establish a ball-control formula which aims to keep Hooker and the UT offense on the sideline. Tennessee has to know the Gamecocks will want to play keep-away, so the Vols need to load the box and send a clear message that running plays won’t achieve much. They need to dare Rattler to beat them over the top. It’s not likely that he can.
3 – Other receiving options
This is less about winning the South Carolina game (though it could prove very useful in that pursuit), more about preparing for the playoff and a tough challenge from an elite opponent. If Tennessee does make the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State or Michigan, it will need to prove that non-Jalin Hyatt receivers can be devastatingly effective. Establishing those second and third options now will give the postseason (playoff) opponent more to worry about on film, which will set up fresh opportunities for this offense, regardless of which team it plays in late December. Plant the seeds now. Why wait?