Tennessee Volunteers (2-5, 2-5 ATS) at No. 17 South Carolina Gamecocks (5-2, 4-3 ATS), Week 9 College Football, Saturday October 30th, 12:21PM Eastern Williams-Brice Stadium Columbia, S.C.
By Jay Horne, Professional Sports Handicapper of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: Vols +17.5/USC -17
Over/Under Total: OFF
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The Tennessee Volunteers are now the only team left in the SEC without a conference victory and just 2-5 on the season. To make matters worse, the Volunteers have given up 41 points exactly in their last two outings which resulted in blowout losses from Georgia and Alabama. Tennessee has been trying to find all the pieces to the puzzle all season and they look to end their lengthy troubles on the road this week when they take on the no. 17 South Carolina Gamecocks this Saturday. South Carolina narrowly escaped a road trip to Vanderbilt last week 21-7, but return home where they are unbeaten on the season while also winning the last 12 out of 13 games inside Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Car. currently reigns among the top of the SEC East at 3-2 in conference play and they currently control their own destiny with hopes of making an SEC Championship appearance . However, the last couple weeks have proved that things are not easy through each passing week in the SEC. South Carolina was upset by Kentucky just two weeks ago and trailed Vanderbilt most of the first half before coming on strong in the 2nd half to capture their 5th victory of the season. The Gamecocks have been solid on the offensive side of the ball this season and they look to take advantage of a struggling Tennessee defense to keep their SEC Title hopes alive.
The Cocks are loaded with weapons on the offensive side of the ball which should cause trouble for the Volunteers defense. QB Stephen Garcia has been rock solid over the past few weeks throwing for 737 yards in his last two games. Garcia who has been heavily criticized during his reign in Columbia actually leads the SEC with a 72 percent completion percentage. The Gamecocks quarterback has really thrown the ball well over the last month of play despite a few turnovers which has always been a concern. Adding to the passing arsenal, South Carolina houses one of the best wide outs in all of college football in Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery is averaging 121 yards per game receiving which is nearly 40 yards per game more than his closest competitor in Alabama’s Julio Jones. Jeffery put the Vanderbilt game out of hand last week with a 72 yard touchdown reception. Not only does Jeffery’s size make him difficult to defend but he is also difficult to bring down after the catch which is why South Carolina attempts a lot of short screen passes to get him the ball . Outside of Jeffery, the Gamecocks also have another big wide receiver in Tori Gurley. Gurley had his best game of his career last week with 13 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. Garcia and the offense do a great job at getting the ball in short passing plays to their big wide outs and that could equal trouble against a Volunteers’ secondary that has struggled all season.
Another important factor in Saturday’s game is that South Carolina will get freshman sensation Marcus Lattimore back in the lineup. Lattimore exploded for over 200 all purpose yards in the first half of the Kentucky game before suffering a sprained ankle that kept him out for the 2nd half along with the entire Vanderbilt contest. Lattimore is a bruising back that is very difficult to bring down that has rushed for 538 yards on the season. Having him back will definitely give the offense more balance and give Tennessee an even tougher time on the defensive side of the ball.
As far as the Tennessee defense is concerned, they are nothing to brag about. Unlike the usual potent Tennessee defenses of year’s past, the Volunteers have relinquished 30 points per game on average this season. Their main problems have been in the passing game where their pass defense ranks 95th in the nation allowing 241 yards per game. While that could indicate a weak secondary, those numbers also dictate at how bad Tennessee has struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Volunteers have just 8 sacks on the season which is dead last in the SEC. The reason that statistic is so significant is because Garcia’s biggest struggles through his career have been when he is under pressure. If the Tennessee defensive front does not get any type of pressure on Garcia, their secondary will not be able to contain the talented South Carolina wide outs.
As for the offense, Tennessee will focus on their rushing attack behind Tauren Poole. Poole became the first running back to rush for over 100 yards against that tenacious Alabama defense since October of 2007 last week and he has single handedly carried the offense this season. Poole has 595 yards with 6 scores on the season and you can expect him to be the work horse this Saturday to provide some type of consistency on the ground. One reason the Volunteers have had to resort to the ground game so often is because QB Matt Simms has been very inconsistent in the passing game.
Simms has thrown for just 56% with 7 scores and 5 picks on the season. Those inconsistency issues are one of the main reasons that the offense has been so ineffective this season and also why the defense has remained on the field so often. However if Simms can make some plays with his arm against a South Carolina pass defense that ranks a miserable 104th in the country, then the Volunteers have a defense that can compete. However, if Simms is not able to move the chains to help keep the South Carolina defense from loading the box then it will be nothing but bad news if they allow the potent South Carolina offense extra opportunities on the short side of the field.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The Gamecocks rush defense has been their strength ranking 13th in the nation allowing just 103 yards per game. Add to the fact, the Gamecocks lead the SEC in sacks and they simply match-up very well against that Tennessee offense and I believe they dominate this game. Also, having Lattimore back on offense will make the offense much more lethal and I do not believe Tennessee will be able to slow them down. The Gamecocks are very hard to play at home and I’m expecting a convincing win here. Take South Carolina -17 .
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