South Carolina-Tennessee: History Favors Vols, Talent and Coaching Favors USC
South Carolina and Tennessee will meet for the 29th time Saturday in front of 82,000–plus crazy Carolina fans.
Tennessee didn't fare well on their last trip to Columbia, where the Gamecocks crushed the Vols 27–6, eventually leading to the firing/resigning of Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.
The all–time series edge goes to the Volunteers, whose record against Carolina is 22-4-2, including a 15-3 record since South Carolina joined the SEC prior to the 1992 season. To USC's advantage, two of their wins have come during the Steve Spurrier era, with wins in 2005 and 2008.
The average score in this series since 1992 is 29–16 in favor of Tennessee, and 22–21 in the Spurrier era.
If this Saturday's game was awarded to the team with the edge in the series history, Tennessee would win in a blowout. Luckily for USC, this game isn't about the series history. Instead, the talent on the field, coaching from the sidelines and preparation during the week factors more than what each team did last year.
I'm sure most of you are familiar with my stance on the impact of series history on the outcome of a game. Read up on the USC–Alabama series history piece I wrote before that game if you don't.
If you did read that article, you'd also realize I'm a fan of patterns. For the Tennessee series, the early pattern was USC wins one, then Tennessee wins 12. USC broke that pattern with their win in 2008.
The other pattern that could emerge is evident during the Steve Spurrier era. USC wins one, then Tennessee wins two. Using that pattern, it's safe to assume Tennessee wins this year's game.
Fortunately again for Carolina, this Tennessee team is not the Tennessee of old. Just as this Gamecock team is not your grandfather's, or even father's, Gamecock team.
USC has the clear coaching edge. We honestly don't know a lot about Tennessee's Derek Dooley at this point, other than he hasn't won an SEC game and hasn't won on the road.
Injuries and defections from recruits and players have dealt Dooley a lot more than he has been able to handle, and to Tennessee fans, the product on the field isn't good enough. That's not to fault Dooley, as I'm sure he's done all he can do with what he has available.
Carolina has the advantage at just about every position on the field as there is just more talent in Columbia than Knoxville right now.
Gamecock QB Stephen Garcia has really progressed this year and is having his best season thus far in Columbia. After two straight games of 350–plus passing yards, Garcia has to be licking his lips at the chance to light up the SEC's ninth best passing defense.
Injuries have depleted the Volunteer secondary, and news that they won't be able to utilize a dime package in coverage has surely been noted by Spurrier and Co.
The thought of a linebacker trying to cover the likes of USC WR Alshon Jeffery, Tori Gurley, DL Moore, or Ace Sanders has USC fans excited about their chances.
South Carolina has seen its own share of pass defense woes this season, but with the commitment to more man–to–man coverage from the Gamecock coaches, the USC defense is improving.
The Gamecock pass defense will be tested often during its final stretch of games, as most teams will avoid relying on the run game against the nation's 13th ranked run defense.
The Vols rush defense is not much better than their pass defense as Tennessee currently sits at ninth in the SEC in rush defense. With the return of USC RB Marcus Lattimore from an ankle injury, and the emergence of RB Brian Maddox as a more than acceptable backup plan, look for the Gamecocks to attempt to establish the run game early and rely on it often.
Overall, Tennessee is last place in the SEC in total defense, a huge advantage for the potent Carolina offense.
Though I think on paper USC should win this game running away, I learned my lesson with the Kentucky game that the Gamecocks still play to the talent level of the competition they face, instead of their full capabilities.
So for the 29th rendition of the South Carolina–Tennessee series, I expect a close and hard-fought game. It'll be very interesting to see if South Carolina will be able to put together another complete, 60-minute game like the Alabama game, instead of one half of decent play like the Auburn, Kentucky and Vanderbilt games.
The hopeful fan in me says USC covers the spread and wins by more than 20 points, but the realistic fan expects a close game throughout with Carolina pulling away in the second half.
For the fun of it, I'll give you two predictions.
If USC plays up to their full potential, they dominate this one: USC 35, Tennessee 10.
But if Carolina doesn't put together a complete game and plays down to the Volunteers' level: USC 21, Tennessee 20.
Considering the lesson the Kentucky game taught me, if I were a betting man, I'd go with option two.
Agree or disagree? Comment below and let me know how you think series history affects a game.
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