The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 17th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks welcome the Tennessee Volunteers to Columbia for an SEC tilt this weekend.
Not much has gone right for Tennessee and first-year head coach Derek Dooley this season. The team is a lowly 2-5 overall, including 0-4 in SEC play, and the last three outings have resulted in defeat. The Vols were embarrassed in front of the home crowd last weekend, as Alabama cruised to a 41-10 victory over Dooley's troops.
"We played an outstanding football team tonight," said Dooley after that loss. "We fought them pretty hard for 30 minutes and were scrapping and fighting. When we came out in the third quarter, they got some big plays, and we made some bad mistakes there."
As for South Carolina, it has won two of its last three games to improve to 5-2 overall, and the highlight of the season to date was a double-digit victory over Alabama two weeks ago. Last weekend, Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks bested Vanderbilt by a 21-7 final.
Tennessee owns a commanding 22-4-2 series edge over South Carolina, which includes wins in three of the last four meetings.
Generating offense has proven to be problematic for Tennessee thus far, as the team is only averaging 21.4 ppg and 320.9 total ypg. The ground attack has been rather weak, accounting for just 121.3 ypg at a clip of 3.8 yards per carry. Tauren Poole is the leading rusher for the squad with 595 yards and six scores. Matt Simms, the team's junior quarterback, has completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 1,253 yards and seven touchdowns against five interceptions, but a knee injury has him listed as questionable for this weekend's affair. If Simms can't play, freshman Tyler Bray will be under center. Unfortunately for both quarterbacks, there is a glaring lack of big-play receivers on the roster.
Both Simms and Bray saw action against Alabama last week, and neither of the two fared well. They combined to complete only 17-of-36 passes for 156 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, so it is easy to understand why the final score was so lopsided. The lone bright spot for the offense was Poole, who rushed for 117 yards and a score on 14 carries.
Opponents are posting 29.4 ppg and 403.1 total ypg against the Tennessee defense, which has struggled often through the first seven outings. The Vols have yielded 23 touchdowns to opposing offenses, including 15 rushing scores. They are permitting 4.3 yards per rushing attempt and 12.5 yards per pass completion. Nick Reveiz leads Tennessee with 65 total tackles, 25 more than his closest teammate.
The Vols got bullied by Alabama, which was able to rack up 536 total yards last week. Tennessee permitted 6.2 yards per rushing attempt and 13.6 yards per pass completion, proving to be helpless against both means of attack. Dooley's team failed to force a single turnover and registered just one sack.
"They watched the film," said Dooley of Alabama. "The film says throw it. They threw for 326. We struggle to stop it. We just struggle. We fight a little bit and fight, and then it just breaks."
Switching focus to South Carolina, it played without standout tailback Marcus Lattimore against Vanderbilt, but is expected to be back in action this weekend. Lattimore has rushed for 538 yards and 10 touchdowns to date, and the Gamecocks are averaging 29.6 ppg and 404.0 total ypg. Stephen Garcia is the club's quarterback, and he has completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 1,681 yards and 12 touchdowns against six interceptions. Garcia has rushed for a pair of scores as well and has developed into one of the better signal callers in the SEC. It certainly helps to have Alshon Jeffery on the roster, as he has hauled in 49 receptions for 848 yards and six scores.
Against Vanderbilt last week, Garcia completed 31-of-39 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns against one interception. Jeffery exploded for 158 receiving yards and a score on nine catches, while Tori Gurley caught 13 balls for 109 yards and a touchdown. Filling in for Lattimore, Brian Maddox rushed for 146 yards and a score on 24 attempts.
"He did excellent," said Spurrier of Maddox. "When Brian got his chance, he was making things happen."
Opponents are posting 18.9 ppg and 353.7 total ypg against South Carolina, which has clearly played better against the run than the pass. Foes are managing a mere 101.3 rushing ypg at a clip of 3.1 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks are permitting 252.4 passing ypg and have allowed 10 passing scores with just three interceptions. Devin Taylor is a player to watch for the defense, as he has recorded 10 TFLs, including 6.5 sacks.
Judging by the fact that Vanderbilt finished with only seven points last week, it is certainly safe to say that South Carolina played outstanding defense. The Gamecocks only allowed 250 total yards despite failing to generate a single takeaway.
"Our defense played outstanding tonight," said Spurrier after the win. "We still can't get a turnover but we can force a bunch of punts, which we haven't been doing. It was a wonderful night for the defense."