South Carolina vs. Tennessee: Keys for Gamecocks and Volunteers in SEC Clash
No. 11 South Carolina heads to Neyland Stadium to face a battle-tested Tennessee squad that nearly upset Georgia two weeks ago. While it's a tilt the Gamecocks should win, the Volunteers will be ready for the big-game atmosphere.
South Carolina has bounced back with four straight wins since its loss to Georgia. Yet, before a blowout victory against an overmatched Arkansas group last week, the Gamecocks were hardly dominant in triumphs over a trio of unranked opponents.
Tennessee also falls in the category, so Steve Spurrier's team should be looking to make a statement on the road. With that in mind, let's check out the biggest key for both teams heading into one of Saturday's most intriguing matchups.
South Carolina: Open the playbook for Connor Shaw
Shaw has taken a major leap forward early in his senior season. Over the previous two campaigns, he was rarely asked to carry the offense. He put together a couple solid years but certainly nothing outstanding in an era where quarterbacks are putting up some jaw-dropping numbers.
South Carolina needed him to take the next step if it was going to become a top-10 team in 2013, though. Shaw has answered the challenge, throwing 10 touchdowns and rushing for a couple more while not throwing a single interception.
Which team will win Saturday's game?
His improved decision-making ability has allowed a balanced Gamecocks offense to average nearly 35 points per game. Now that he's proven capable of leading the offense through some tough tests, it's time to give him even more responsibility.
South Carolina can afford to take more chances downfield to spread out defenses, which have still been focused on slowing down the team's rushing attack first. If the team can make more big passing plays, especially early, Tennessee won't be able to keep pace.
Tennessee: Establish the run early
Tennessee was able to force Georgia into overtime because it never completely abandoned the run despite the Bulldogs building a 14-point halftime lead. The threat of the run allowed the Vols to storm back in the second half, even taking the lead late in the fourth quarter.
Rajion Neal leads the charge. The senior running back has topped the 140-yard mark in three of the team's six games. All told, he's racked up 616 yards and seven touchdowns while also making plays in the passing game.
If Tennessee is going to push for another upset bid, it must establish the running game early. Against Georgia, the time of possession was virtually even. That should be the goal again, and it's only possible if it's able to build extended drives on the ground.
Neal has shown no problems with handling a heavy workload and South Carolina is giving up over 140 yards per game on the ground. If it can win the battle at the line of scrimmage, the Gamecocks will be in for a battle that goes right down to the wire.
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