The Tennessee Volunteers are returning home after two tough weeks against LSU and Alabama. They have a great chance to beat the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Two years ago, the Vols donned black jerseys on Halloween night when South Carolina came in. The move was controversial with fans over the age of 45. The rest of us freakin' loved it. I think I fainted.
This year, I doubt we'll see any black jerseys, but I do think the atmosphere will be rabid, bordering on enraged. Players, coaches and fans alike are ready to get back to conference relevance, and beating the defending SEC East champions would be a good first step.
Here's a preview of the game.
After two back-breaking weeks against the nation's, nay, the world's top two college teams, the Tennessee Volunteers return to home a game they can certainly compete in.
First, the Vols must leave their second-half woes behind them. They have been out scored 52 to nothing after halftime in the past two weeks. Against Florida and Georgia, the combined second half score was 31-22, still not desirable but much more respectable.
Second, Tennessee's secondary needs to grow up fast. While there are freshmen and sophomores all over the field for the Big Orange, the defensive backfield has been the most discombobulated unit of all. Prentiss Waggner, Brent Brewer and Art Evans are the elders of the group, each one leaving a lot to be desired this 2011 season. I've already found my goat for the next four years -- Brian Randolph.
Third, Justin Worley has to play like the Gatorade Player of the Year that he was. The true freshman has gotten the starting job for Saturday's game against his home state's college team, and I for one am extremely excited. Apparently South Carolina is the team we test out our young quarterbacks on--Worley this year and Tyler Bray last year.
It would be great to see a passing game for the first time in three weeks.
Like the Volunteers, the South Carolina Gamecocks have dealt with disappointment and injury this year.
Boldly predicted by me to be the 2012 BCS National Champions, they had to kick Stephen Garcia off the team after his latest run-in with the law, and star running back Marcus Lattimore is done for the season with a knee injury.
First, the Gamecocks have to use the bye week to their advantage. While Tennessee is coming off three straight weeks of Georgia, LSU and at Alabama, South Carolina is coming off Kentucky, at Mississippi State and a bye week. Their legs are fresher, and their souls may be a little less weary.
Second, get the ball to Alshon Jeffery! He and Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon are the best wide receivers in the country, and Jeffery has had to catch passes from Garcia most of this career. He has caught at least five balls in all but two games this year, and with the weakness of the Vols' secondary, that rule should stay in place.
Third, South Carolina's defense, arguably the best in the SEC after Alabama and LSU, needs to get in the face of Justin Worley early and often. They have to be foaming at the mouth to get a chance at the true freshman who fled South Carolina for the hills of Knoxville. They are second in the SEC with 14 interceptions.
After opening at South Carolina -6, the line has shrunk to South Carolina -4. When did the majority of this spread-tightening occur?
When Derek Dooley named true freshman Justin Worley the starting quarterback over senior Matt Simms.
The prospect of a respectable passing game coupled with a much improved running game has Tennessee Volunteer fans talking like its September. Can Worley and Da'Rick Rogers find the kind of chemistry that Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter had/hopefully still have?
The game is at Neyland Stadium, always a great advantage, especially against sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw who has never played with 100,000 orange clad fans yelling at him.
Call me crazy, I know I do, but I think Tennessee will not only cover but win outright. It will be Dooley's first signature victory as a head coach.
I have mentioned it several times already, but Justin Worley is going to get his first college start tomorrow. After burning his red shirt in the waning minutes of the Alabama game last week, Derek Dooley decided it was time to give the freshman a chance.
While the Tennessee Volunteers have had a tough season, nothing that out of the ordinary has happened. The Vols lost to two SEC East teams that were better than them as well as the top two teams in the country.
Tennessee laid the smackdown on now ranked Cincinnati, so it's not farfetched to call that a nice win. Remember the line was around six or seven for that game, and Tennessee ended up winning 45-23.
What I mean to say is that with just three victories more, the Vols will find themselves back in a bowl game, an impressive feat after having your top two offensive threats are docked with injuries. With a win over South Carolina (and over the much-improved Vanderbilt), Tennessee is likely to go 7-5, an improvement over the 2010 season.
Worley can be the man to take them there. He threw 5,313 yards and 64 touchdowns his senior year. No, that wasn't a typo. Worley was named the Gatorade Player of the Year, a distinction held by Tim Couch, Matt Barkley and some dude named Peyton Manning.
I'm getting on the Worley Train!
It has been two weeks since the Tennessee Volunteers were able to go into a game with a great chance to win. They're home underdogs mainly out of respect for what LSU and Alabama were able to do in back-to-back weeks, but I think it's flip-flopped.
If Justin Worley can avoid throwing a bunch of interceptions and the defensive secondary can make just one big play, I like Tennessee. I think both of those things happen.
Tennessee - 24, South Carolina - 20