As Oct. 26's matchup with the Tennessee Volunteers approaches, The Daily Gamecock caught up with Tennessee's student newspaper, The Daily Beacon. Co-sports editors Ryan Schumpert and Noah Taylor discussed this Saturday's SEC East matchup with the Vols.
Q: What is your prediction for this game and why?
A: Schumpert: This series has had close games every year going back to 2010, and I'd expect the same this season. I think you certainly have two flawed teams who aren't perfect, but appear to be playing better football as the year goes on. Both teams will be coming off physical and challenging games the week before, so they're even in that case. Both teams desperately need a win to make a bowl game. There are definitely some parallels between the two. I think South Carolina has a better team, but I think Tennessee narrowly squeaks one out over the Gamecocks, 23-20.
Taylor: This is an interesting game. Tennessee has looked improved the last few weeks, especially with that win over Mississippi State. That said, they were in a similar position a year ago coming off an upset win at Auburn before losing four of their last five SEC games. Depending on the health of Ryan Hilinski and given Muschamp's success against Tennessee, I would give South Carolina the edge in a close, low-scoring game.
Q: In his second season as head coach, do you believe Jeremy Pruitt is on track to bring the Vols back to the Vols we saw in the early 2000s/late 1990s?
A: Schumpert: No, I'm not sure there are five coaches in America that could get Tennessee back to the level it was in the late 90s. To lose five games in four seasons ('95-98') isn't going to happen for a long time. And that isn't to bash Jeremy Pruitt. The reality is you have three of the best six collegiate football programs within a five hour drive of Knoxville. Recruiting at an elite level is going to be difficult because of that. Phillip Fulmer used to clean up in recruiting in North and South Carolina. Due to the success of Clemson and to a lesser degree South Carolina, that's just a very, very challenging task. Now the immediate goal for Pruitt and Tennessee needs to be getting even with South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, and even Vanderbilt. I think it's safe to say Pruitt hasn't done a very good job this season, but he's a young head coach and the jury is still out on whether he can get Tennessee back to respectability. After that he can deal with chasing Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
Taylor: After the first two games of the season I would have said no and while I think Tennessee is still a long way from replicating the success they had during that time, I do think Pruitt has things going in the right direction with recruiting. I think we're starting to see some that pay off on the field.
Q: What Gamecock poses the greatest threat to the Tennessee offense AND defense?
A: Schumpert: Whoever the starting nickel is (will be matched up with Jauan Jennings) and Ryan Hilinski. Jake Bentley had his coming out party as a freshman against the Vols in 2016. They just hope Saturday isn't that for Hilinski.
Taylor: On offense, I think it's [wide receiver] Bryan Edwards. Tennessee's defensive line has improved so I think South Carolina is going to test the defense through the air, with Edwards being one of their big threats. On defense, I think it's defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. That'll be a big battle for Tennessee's offensive line, especially as they continue to try and find success in the run game.
Q: What Volunteer poses the greatest threat to the South Carolina offense AND defense?
A: Schumpert: Offensively it's Jauan Jennings. He's been the Vols' most effective weapon this season, and in his limited action, Brian Maurer's favorite target. Defensively it's Darrell Taylor. Going back to the start of the 2018 season the Vols' outside backer has 11 sacks. Nine of those sacks have come in three games. He's the streakiest defensive player I have ever watched. Tennessee's front seven hasn't been a strength, but if they get good play out of Taylor it improves drastically.
Taylor: Tennessee's most consistent offensive threat this season has been Jauan Jennings. Maurer or Guarantano, depending on who is playing, look to go to Jennings a lot. He's a sure-handed, downfield threat and he's hard to bring down. This is a very talented WR corps for the Vols, I think anyone of them can be a big threat, especially with Tennessee airing the ball out more with Maurer in.
Q: Many Gamecock fans consider Tennessee to be their second or third biggest rival. How big of a rival do Volunteer fans consider South Carolina?
A: Schumpert: I think Tennessee fans see it as just a normal SEC matchup. Obviously there is some tension as the two teams meet every year, and the lack of success the Vols have had against Will Muschamp at both Florida and Carolina help fuel that. However, I’m not sure most fans see it as a huge rivalry. Florida, Georgia, and Alabama are certainly Tennessee’s three biggest rivals. I’d probably say South Carolina is fourth, but Vanderbilt is close behind with the recent success the Commodores have had over the Vols.
Taylor: I definitely think its a game that means more than it has historically, especially since Muschamp has been so successful against Tennessee in his tenure. Spurrier coming back to the college ranks in 2005 also added more intrigue to the game. I still think Tennessee fans would rank Alabama and Florida as the top 2, but South Carolina could be right behind them.
Q: What will Tennessee have to do to be competitive or win against South Carolina?
A: Schumpert: With two freshman quarterbacks starting I think it'll be about which team can run the ball and keep its quarterback in third-and-reasonable. Tennessee isn't going to run the ball down South Carolina's throat. They won't even run fifty percent of the time, but they have to help Maurer by staying balanced offensively. If Tennessee's defense can find ways to create negative plays on first and second down I think they'll have a great chance of having success on that side of the ball. Tennessee's kicking game is also very good. It wouldn't surprise me to see Pruitt play field position and shorten the game.
Taylor: Find a way to move the ball. South Carolina's defense stiffeld Georgia a few weeks ago and I think for Tennessee to have a chance in this game they are going to have to find success running the football.