Expect Defensive Battle Between South Carolina and Tennessee

South Carolina Gamecocks

Rainman M.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 4:52 PM GMT

Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 4:52 PM GMT

Tennessee (3-2) hosts South Carolina (4-2) this Saturday at 12:00 PM ET.  The Vols are favored by 2.5 or 3 points. The game total is between 49 and 48.

South Carolina Gamecocks vs Tennessee Volunteers

The Gamecocks lack the offense with which to consistently produce scoring drives. Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley is a rising superstar but still a raw talent. He is inconsistent in his performance because he often misses wide open throws and struggles to overcome mechanical issues. He especially likes to throw outside the pocket, but fails to punctually set his feet in order to deliver a proper throw.

Head Coach Will Muschamp openly insists on having a balanced offense. However, the rushing attack lacks talent. South Carolina is 104th in rush yards per attempt. The offense line, of which three starters are 'questionable' to play vs Tennessee, has suffered from injury, position changes, lack of experience and lack of chemistry.

Tennessee's second-year defensive coordinator Bob Schoop already has a history of establishing top-ranked secondaries at North Carolina.  This season, the Vols held Florida's Feleipe Franks to 149 passing yards before his last-second Hail Mary. They held Georgia's Jake Fromm to 7/15 for 84 yards and an interception.  Tennessee has the defensive tools to contain South Carolina's offensive strength, the pass attack, with a rejuvenated belief in a 4-3 defense that matches up well against South Carolina's pro-style offense.

The Vols' secondary is experienced, talented and deep. Three of their top four pass defenders, all upperclassmen, return. They also added former All-ACC defensive back, Shaq Wiggins, who contributes playmaking ability, leadership and competitive fire. Sophomore Blue-chipper Nigel Warrior is making an immediate impact with tackles, passes defensed and forced fumbles.

The strong safety Warrior matches up well against South Carolina's tight end, Hayden Hurst. Warrior utilizes his physicality to jam and otherwise contain bigger receivers. He has big-play ability with his ball skills and uses his range to cover extensive ground. Decisive will be his ability to read the quarterback's eyes, especially due to Bentley's tendency to stare down his target.

At linebacker, former Walk-on Colton Jumper has been a positive surprise with 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Even though Tennessee's linebacking corps and defensive line are thinned due to departure and injury, Jumper epitomizes Schoop's ability to turn underrated recruits into high-quality players. The Vols are 1st in team sack percentage and 26th in sacks achieved per game.

Tennessee's offense, which has mustered 17 points in its last two games against UMass and Georgia combined, is a work-in-progress. Freshman Jarrett Guarantano will make his first career start at quarterback. 

Guarantano was a four-star recruit, a raw talent. He loves to run outside the pocket and excels at making plays with his legs. He struggles with accuracy, but expect him to replicate his short stint against Georgia, where he went 6/7 for 16 yards. He focused on throwing short, easy passes.

John Kelly is a reliable running back for Tennessee. He utilizes his strong lower body and ability to churn in order to gain extra yardage. He shows vision and patience in finding open holes and ably breaks through contact. Tennessee surely wishes that they had utilized Kelly more often last year: in their loss at South Carolina Kelly ran only 14 times, but for 94 yards.

In South Carolina's two losses, the opposing rush attacks combined for 96 carries. Tennessee thus has the blueprint to succeed against South Carolina by utilizing Kelly and, with a freshman quarterback, the necessity to keep running. The Vols' offensive line is experienced, except for the impressively developing left tackle Drew Richmond, and five-star right guard Trey Smith.

South Carolina's defensive line, ranked 83rd in sacks per game, continues to struggle from last season in creating havoc. Despite thinness at linebacker, the run defense will be extra focused against Kelly.

Two stars are seminal to South Carolina's containment of Kelly. Linebacker T.J. Brunson leads the team in tackles. Defensive End D.J. Wonnum leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Brunson rapidly exploits open gaps while Wonnum utilizes his explosiveness off the edge. Both utilize their speed, athleticism and aggression in pursuit to make big plays.

 

The Verdict

Neither team's offense is reliable on our NCAAF Picks. South Carolina trusts a passing attack that is mired by Bentley's inconsistency, lack of support from the run game and offensive line, and the loss of its top playmaker. Tennessee's defensive strength has the secondary to contain the Gamecocks' passing attack, which should struggle to achieve big plays. Tennessee's already out-of-sorts offense must break in a new quarterback and will ride Kelly against South Carolina's respectable defense.

Free NCAAF Pick: 'Under' 49 pointsBest Line Offered: at BetOnline

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