South Carolina Three Keys: Tennessee

Three-keys-USC

South Carolina didn’t get the double-victory over both Georgia and Florida, but merely splitting those two games represented a good and productive effort on the part of the Gamecocks, who are showing despite the absence of Jake Bentley at quarterback that they can compete with the top tier of the SEC East.

By Matt Zemek

Now, they face the Tennessee Volunteers, a team they should defeat. How can they make sure this game doesn’t slip away from them?

1 – Make Tennessee earn everything

The Vols keep showing this in every game they play: If you force them to be consistent and patient, they can’t pull it off. Tennessee drove down to the Alabama one-yard line last weekend with a chance to pull within one possession of the Crimson Tide. Moments later, Alabama returned a fumble 100 yards for a touchdown. Something always seems to happen with this team and, more commonly, an offense which keeps leaving points and plays on the field.

People who follow the Vols will tell you that in the early half of the season, plays were there to be made but quarterback Jarrett Guarantano did not make them. This is why Guarantano was replaced by Brian Maurer, whose big arm stretched the field and enabled Tennessee to capitalize on some of the plays which were open against slow-to-respond defenses. Maurer was an improvement over Guarantano, but even then, he threw costly interceptions due to his lack of experience.

He then got injured, and Guarantano replaced him for this past Saturday’s Alabama game. The Vols showed promise at times, but that fumble return and other goal-line misadventures reinforced how bad Tennessee is at finishing drives in the red zone. As long as South Carolina doesn’t gift Tennessee touchdowns with stupid plays or horrible turnovers, the Vols are going to have a very tough time scoring enough to win. If South Carolina forces the Vols to earn every point they score, chances are Tennessee will score fewer than 20 points, and the Gamecocks should win if that is the case.

2 – Second-half offense

If there was a common thread to the Georgia and Florida games, despite their very different final outcomes (one win, one loss), it is that the South Carolina offense died in the second half, especially the fourth quarter. Numerous reasons exist for this reality, one of them being that Ryan Hilinski was injured against Georgia. However, the combination of play selection and adjustments to defensive actions must be better from Will Muschamp’s staff.

3 – Staying the course

It took a lot of energy to beat Georgia and then force Florida to come up with a flawless fourth quarter. Do the Gamecocks want to play like a quality team? Avoiding a mental letdown after two very demanding games would show people that South Carolina knows how to stay focused in the middle of a grueling SEC season.

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