South Carolina vs. Tennessee: 10 Little Known Facts About the Southern Rivalry
As with most SEC matchups, the Week 9 game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Tennessee Volunteers will have its share of storylines.
The conference rivalry adds a dimension to games between divisional opponents that isn’t found in non-conference games. An element of dislike—even hatred—is built into games in the second half of the college football season; if you don’t like that, you probably shouldn’t be watching sports.
And, if the game between South Carolina and Tennessee didn’t have enough going for it already, it’s scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EST as part of a national broadcast on ESPN2.
The tailgating scene at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN is crazy enough before day games—the fact that this matchup is a night game only adds to the anticipation. Needless to say, it’ll probably be a long day of drinking for the Tennessee faithful.
(The same goes for the pocket of South Carolina fans brave enough to face one of the toughest road environments in the country. They’ll need to be good and “lubed up”—to borrow Tom Brady’s phrase—if they plan on surviving the game, should things go wrong for the Gamecocks.)
With South Carolina coming to Tennessee off a bye week but without star running back Marcus Lattimore, the outcome of the game won’t be easily predicted.
The wild card for Tennessee will again be the quarterback situation, as they’ll start true freshman Justin Worley for the first time.
If you’re betting on the game, you know the oddsmakers have this one pegged basically as a coin flip. With so many unknown variables playing into this contest, viewers are in for a classic SEC battle.
Here are some quick hitters to get you set for this Saturday’s big SEC East matchup.
1. Home Sweet Home
The Tennessee Volunteers enjoy one of the best home field advantages in college football thanks to its 102,455-seat capacity. When you get that many Tennessee fans together, there’s sure to be an advantage for the team in orange.
That advantage has been particularly apparent in games against South Carolina.
The Gamecocks have lost two consecutive games at Tennessee since barely managing a 16-15 victory in Knoxville in 2005. In fact, in 15 games at Neyland Stadium, South Carolina has beaten the Volunteers only once.
Despite its current five-game road winning streak—which ties a school record—South Carolina can’t feel comfortable having to come into Neyland Stadium and face the home crowd.
The Gamecocks must be hoping that they won't be hearing "Rocky Top" in their sleep after the game.
2. Opposite Directions
South Carolina and Tennessee are two divergent teams; while the Gamecocks are enjoying relative success this season in the SEC East, the Volunteers have struggled to win games.
South Carolina sits atop the division with a 4-1 conference record (6-1 overall) and controls its own destiny in terms of the SEC title game. Tennessee is mired in a four-game SEC losing streak that has left the team at the bottom of the east division with an 0-4 conference record (3-4 overall).
That’s not to say that this Saturday’s game won’t be competitive.
I’m expecting Tennessee to come out fighting and play a tough brand of football. In a way, this is the Volunteers' bowl game; it’s their chance to make an impression on the SEC—and the country—if they play well against a ranked divisional opponent.
The chance to potentially ruin South Carolina’s season will be Tennessee’s main motivation on Saturday.
3. Records Were Meant to Be Broken
Even in the midst of the quarterback controversy going on at South Carolina, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is having a solid year.
But, without running back Marcus Lattimore to draw the defense’s attention, Jeffery will have to earn South Carolina’s receiving yards record.
Kenny McKinley currently holds the record with 2,781 receiving yards in his career.
Jeffery has 30 receptions, 451 receiving yards and five touchdowns on the season; what’s most important is that those 451 yards leave him only 50 receiving yards shy of his school’s all-time record.
It’s not a question of “if,” but “when” regarding Jeffery’s chances of breaking the receiving record at South Carolina. On the big stage in a tough road game, the record will certainly be on his mind.
A typical game from Jeffery should earn him a place in the Gamecocks record book, as well as—likely—a South Carolina victory.
4. The Streak Continues?
Tennessee has recently had some trouble against teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
And, by “some trouble,” I mean “no success.”
Of their last 16 games against ranked teams, the Volunteers have lost 15 of them. That trend of disappointing results against top opponents includes their current streak of nine consecutive losses.
If there’s a spot for Tennessee to put an end to that streak, it’s this Saturday night at home against a banged up Gamecocks team.
Playing under the lights against a team missing its best player should be just the scenario that the Volunteers need to get a signature win.
5. Welcome to the Show
Tennessee’s true freshman quarterback Justin Worley will make his first collegiate start this Saturday; Volunteers fans are hoping he won’t be overwhelmed by the bright lights of the national stage.
Worley’s stats this season are as follows: one rushing attempt for zero yards. That’s it.
In his first start, the kid will have to fight his own nerves in addition to the South Carolina defense on Saturday night; neither will be an easy task.
South Carolina’s defense is allowing only 133.7 passing yards per game to opposing teams, good for fifth in the FBS. They also have 14 interceptions as a team through seven games this season.
The good thing for Worley is that his coach Derek Dooley has faith enough in him to name him the starting quarterback over senior Matt Sims.
Worley, a Rock Hill, SC native, will try to show South Carolina that they should’ve paid more attention to him during recruiting season.
6. According to Vegas
According to the oddsmakers in Las Vegas, the Gamecocks are favored by four points—although you can probably find three-and-a-half somewhere online. Either way, the Volunteers will be home underdogs on Saturday.
Just as important as the game on the field (between the players) is the game in the sportsbook (between the bettors and the oddsmakers). Looking at historical trends might be worth a shot before placing a bet on either side.
The final score doesn’t just guarantee regional bragging rights.
In the last five rivalry games between South Carolina and Tennessee, the favorite has gone 4-1 against the spread (ATS) and the road team is 10-3-1 ATS. You know, in case you were wondering.
The trends point to a South Carolina win (in the traditional AND gambling senses of the word), but is that really enough evidence to prove that Tennessee has no shot at winning? I doubt it; this game will come down to the wire.
Either team could win, and I wouldn't be surprised at the outcome.
7. Long-Time Rivals
The term “SEC rivalry” usually conjures images of Alabama vs. Auburn or Florida vs. Georgia when it comes to football. And, although the two haven’t technically been SEC rivals for long, South Carolina and Tennessee share a long-standing competition with one another.
The football series between these two schools dates back to 1903 and has only recently become a true conference rivalry.
Since South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992, Tennessee has certainly gotten the better of the Gamecocks head-to-head. The Volunteers are 14-3 overall against South Carolina, but the Gamecocks have gotten two of those three wins under current head coach Steve Spurrier.
The Ol’ Ball Coach knows Tennessee well, as he’s coached against them while at Duke and Florida in years past.
Spurrier’s familiarity with the Volunteers might be another factor in determining the winner of the upcoming matchup between South Carolina and Tennessee, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence showing that the Vols have dominated this rivalry.
8. South Carolina Key to Success
If South Carolina is going to win this game, Connor Shaw will have to play his best game as a starting quarterback. It'll only be his second true road start, and the hostile environment in Knoxville will be his biggest opposition.
While the Tennessee secondary hasn't been a shutdown unit by any stretch, Shaw will have to do more than effectively manage the game in order to win. Without Marcus Lattimore at running back to be his security blanket, Shaw will have to make throws and move the offense down the field.
Alshon Jeffery will almost certainly be Shaw's primary target, and Tennessee is sure to know this. That means lots of double coverage on the South Carolina wide receiver as the Volunteers will look to take away Shaw's biggest weapon.
Shaw will need to check down to his second and third reads on passing plays and utilize his feet if and when the offensive line protection breaks down.
Tennessee is a team that's been backed into a corner and will come out swinging; they'll be hungry to make a statement on Saturday night against the inexperienced Shaw at quarterback.
9. Tennessee Key to Success
In order for the Tennessee Volunteers to pull off the upset at home against South Carolina, senior running back Tauren Poole will have to be their most effective player.
The efficiency of the South Carolina pass defense this season has been well chronicled. If Tennessee is going to move the ball on offense, it will likely have to do so on the ground.
Expect Poole to see a heavier workload on Saturday than usual, as Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley will try to ease his true freshman quarterback Justin Worley into the game. The opening few drives from Tennessee will probably feature Poole in order to control the clock and hopefully create manageable third downs for Worley.
As a senior, Poole knows that this game will be a showcase for him and a chance to increase his draft stock.
A solid performance will earn him credibility with NFL scouts. And, if he happens to carry the Volunteers to a stirring victory, he'll earn high marks for intangibles too.
As I've mentioned a few times, the result of this game is completely up in the air.
While South Carolina has the better team in terms of individual talent, the fact that Tennessee is playing at home—and at night—might be enough to outweigh the talent disparity.
The red flags for each team—no Marcus Lattimore, Connor Shaw on his second true road start for South Carolina; true freshman Justin Worley at quarterback, a porous secondary for Tennessee—are cause for concern.
However, the positives for South Carolina are enough for me to give the edge to the Gamecocks in their matchup with the Volunteers.
If South Carolina's defense can stop the run, the Gamecocks will be able to key on Worley in third-and-long situations, which will allow their vaunted pass rush to make an impact on the game.
In short, defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney will be able to do what they've been doing all season: get to the quarterback.
For a defensive unit that's been as opportunistic as South Carolina's, I don't expect the Gamecocks to waste the chances that will be given to them by a true freshman quarterback standing across from them.
I see this game being a close one, but ultimately the win goes to the Gamecocks, 21-17.