Tennessee freshman quarterback Justin Worley
After facing the nation's Top Two teams and losing both in blowout fashion in consecutive weeks, the Vols will face yet another Top 15 team Saturday in Knoxville.
The No. 13 South Carolina Gamecocks are coming off a huge loss of their own. This loss didn't show up in the standings, but rather on the roster as all-everything running back Marcus Lattimore was lost for the season with a knee injury two Saturdays ago.
The Gamecocks eventually won the game in which Lattimore was injured, but given the fact that the sophomore running back has accounted for 36 percent of South Carolina's total offensive yards this season, losing Lattimore with five games remaining is easily their biggest loss of the season.
The Vols are reeling from the injury bug as well with quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter nursing injuries. Hunter won't be back at all in 2011, while Bray might make it back for the Vanderbilt and/or Kentucky games.
Bray's backup, Matt Simms, proved largely ineffective against LSU and Alabama the last two weekends. But who doesn't? Considering Simms' history of ineffectiveness against any and all opponents last season, head coach Derek Dooley decided it was time to promote another true freshman over the senior.
So, the Vols will start true freshman quarterback Justin Worley against his home-state team Saturday almost exactly one year to the date since Bray, as a freshman, replaced Simms in the middle of the South Carolina game at Columbia last season.
Here's what to expect from Tennessee's fifth SEC game of 2011.
Predict the winner:
When Tennessee Has the Ball
Vanilla. Seeing a true freshman just a few yards away, the talented Gamecocks defensive line should be salivating to get after Worley, the South Carolina native.
Tennessee's O-line has been great in pass protection all season long, but it won't have a ton of opportunities to keep Worley upright because South Carolina is excellent against the pass—especially compared to its inconsistency against the run.
The Gamecocks are giving up 143 yards rushing per game.
South Carolina's defense is No. 2 in the nation against the pass, having only given up 947 yards through the air this season. The Gamecocks have given up 10 touchdowns receiving this season, however.
Expect a heavy dose of Tauren Poole Saturday.
When South Carolina Has the Ball
The Gamecocks' top two rushers going into Saturday's game are Marcus Lattimore and Stephen Garcia. Lattimore is done for the year and Garcia was kicked off the team just two weeks ago.
Next on the list is sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw who has 110 rushing yards on 40 attempts this season. After that, Carolina has two wide receivers, a defensive end and a third-string quarterback on the rushing yards list. Scrambled somewhere in between that hodgepodge of ball-carriers is freshman Brandon Wilds who has rushed 13 times for 75 yards this season.
With no Lattimore, the Vols defense will likely not have to worry about stacking the front as they have the last two games. That should leave plenty of help for a UT secondary that has been less than spectacular lately. They'll need all the help they can get as the Gamecocks' lone offensive big-play threat, Alshon Jeffery, plays wide receiver.
The key will be sophomore Connor Shaw making just his second road start at quarterback.
What To Expect
This will be a low-scoring affair with the team that rushes for the most yards winning the game. That's a toss-up at this point. The Vols have a clear advantage with this game being played at Neyland Stadium with an opposing quarterback making just his second start on the road.
But, as is the case most weeks in SEC play, the Vols do not have the edge in talent.
If Justin Worley can manage his first career start and the Vols get off to a good start running the ball, Tennessee will win this game. But, those are two big "ifs."
South Carolina's defense should do just enough to help the Gamecocks pull this one out.
Prediction: South Carolina 17-13