Following an impressive SEC win over Arkansas, the South Carolina football team will face Tennessee in a critical divisional matchup on Saturday.
This is a huge game for both programs, not only because it’s a rivalry, but also because it could decide who stays in contention for a division that is heavily controlled by Georgia. Tennessee coach Butch Jones needs to assure his spot as head coach, after losing to Georgia 41-0 in the week before the team's bye week, while Muschamp needs to prove he can produce quality conference wins.
Reports circulated on Tuesday that redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will be starting in place of Quinten Dormady, who started the first five games this season and could be questioning his tenure at Tennessee. Jones confirmed that Guarantano will start on Saturday during his press conference on Wednesday. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Guarantano made his collegiate debut against Indiana State on Sept. 9, passing for 41 yards and a touchdown. According to SEC Country, Tennessee offensive coordinator Larry Scott said the quarterback competition was open entering Week 7, with the repetitions being split 50-50 in the bye week practices.
What South Carolina needs to do to win
The Gamecocks will be looking to improve upon their offensive production after an already productive game in Week 6 against Arkansas. Despite putting up 358 total yards and 48 points last week, the Gamecock offense still ranks 87th in the nation in total offense and 115th in rush offense. The Tennessee defense ranks 52nd nationally, but its rush defense is 115th in the nation. The Gamecocks should be able to establish a run game against Tennessee, especially with Rico Dowdle healthy after having his quad drained as Muschamp confirmed on Saturday. The Gamecocks should be able to establish a balanced offense that will trouble a defense that has struggled all year.
What Tennessee needs to do to win
The Volunteer offense struggled all year offensively. It is ranked 117th in the country and second to last in the SEC, just one spot in front of Vanderbilt nationally. Expect the Volunteers to rely on running back John Kelly to get anywhere offensively. The Gamecocks are coming off their most explosive defensive performance since September 2014, forcing three defensive touchdowns versus Arkansas. This should give them some confidence going into a hostile environment against an inexperienced quarterback. This game could end up being one of the biggest games in both Jones’ and Muschamp's career.
What this game means
A win for the Gamecocks would put them one win away from having two consecutive bowl seasons, and would give them a 3-2 SEC record. The loss for Jones would only turn up the temperature of his hot seat and would put his coaching job in jeopardy. A win for Tennessee would give the Volunteers more confidence not only in Jones but also in Guarantano. A loss for the Gamecocks would set them back in their bowl game pursuits, and would make some of the upcoming SEC match-ups "must-win" situations.