NO. 11 SOUTH CAROLINA (5-1, 3-1 SEC) AT TENNESSEE (3-3, 0-2)
Noon * Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn. * ESPN/106.5 FM
By now, you probably know the story.
Tennessee left tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson blocked South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the likely No. 1 pick in April’s NFL draft, better than anyone for all of their meeting last season in Columbia until the nation’s former No. 1 recruit beat Richardson inside, sacked Tyler Bray and forced a fumble the Gamecocks recovered to seal a 38-35 win.
While South Carolina will move Clowney around its talented front, both he and Richardson probably have had this game circled on their calendars for a long time, particularly Richardson, given how last season’s game ended.
First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones, though, tried to downplay the individual matchup.
“This is about us as a team and us as a unit,” Vols offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. “There hasn’t been much made of that. From my standpoint, we’ve got to go out and get better as unit. We’ve got to play better than we did. We had a good bye week, and we’ve had three good days this week.
“I know much is made of that, but I’m not getting caught up in that and I’m not letting him.”
One to watch
After avoiding Todd Gurley, Georgia’s bulldozing tailback, two weeks ago, Tennessee now has a date with the SEC’s leading rusher in South Carolina’s Mike Davis, the 5-foot-9, 215-pound sophomore who’s averaging 123.7 yards per carry and has five 100-yard games in the Gamecocks’ six games this season.
The former four-star recruit, who was the nation’s No. 63 player according to Rivals.com, ran for 149 yards at Georgia, torched Central Florida for a career-high 167 yards and three of his nine touchdown and tallied 128 yards in South Carolina’s 52-7 destruction of Arkansas a week ago.
Davis has 10 runs of 15 or more yards this season, including two 75-yard gallops and a 53-yard burst.
“I think his top-end speed is excellent, Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek said. “The thing that makes him so challenging is that if you get guys around him, he can make them miss. He’s got a great ability to jump-cut, then accelerate, then break a tackle. He’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
In the end
Yes, Tennessee nearly upset Georgia to notch the program’s first win against a ranked team since 2009, but the Vols’ coaches and players are tired of hearing about all the good they did in what ultimately was a loss. Jones challenged his team’s leadership after he was unhappy with Tuesday’s practice, and the Vols appeared to respond on Wednesday.
After building big leads then coasting in wins against UCF, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, South Carolina appeared to put it all together in throttling the scuffling Razorbacks last week. Given the mounting injuries for Florida and Georgia and Missouri quarterback James Franklin’s injury, South Carolina feels its SEC East hopes are rejuvenated.
Davis and quarterback Connor Shaw have Steve Spurrier’s offense clicking, and the Vols will need a performance like the one in the second half against Georgia offensively to keep pace.
Prediction: South Carolina 34, Tennessee 20
KNOXVILLE — Another mobile quarterback is on the docket today for Tennessee.
Allow John Jancek, the Volunteers' defensive coordinator, to sum up the orange-tinted reaction to that statement.
It's even scarier when the dual-threat quarterback is playing as well as South Carolina's Connor Shaw is this season.
Coming off its open date, Tennessee gets another crack at breaking its trend of struggles against running quarterbacks when Shaw's 11th-ranked Gamecocks visit Knoxville.
Whether it was Oregon's Marcus Mariota keeping passing plays alive with his feet, Florida's Tyler Murphy scrambling for a key first down or Georgia's Aaron Murray stemming the Vols' momentum on a quarterback draw, quarterbacks on the run have killed the Vols this season.
"It gets to me when I see things like that happen," defensive end Corey Miller said, "because that starts with the defensive line keeping our quarterback points and making sure we don't let them get anything outside the pocket. It starts with us, so it's definitely frustrating. It's a point of emphasis every week.
"Some weeks in the past, we haven't necessarily, you know, completed that task, but for this week, it's definitely a big point to keep our quarterback points."
Even with star tailback Marcus Lattimore in the NFL, South Carolina's offense is producing more this season than last season, and it's largely due to the senior orchestrating things for coach Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks are fourth in the SEC with an average of 486.5 yards per game, and they average more than 32 minutes in time of possession, which is 17th nationally.
South Carolina's third-down conversion rate of 53 percent is eighth in the country.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones cited a play in the Gamecocks' 52-7 whipping of Arkansas a week ago as an example of the danger Shaw presents.
"It's a game of inches, and when you're playing the talented players that we've played -- Connor's one of those -- that one individual out of place can hurt you," he said. "They had third-and-17 last week, and he scrambles and he makes a first down. Those are backbreakers for a defense.
"I think it starts with the defensive front. I think it speaks of being in coverage and not coming off because you're being disciplined in the scramble drill. It's creating space in one-on-one matchups, so I think it's a combination of a lot of things, but it's challenging. We have struggled in that part of it, but I think the world of college football has struggled with that as well."
Mariota, a Heisman Trophy candidate, tacked on runs of 20 and 15 yards and a 9-yard rushing score to his career-high 456-yard passing performance against Tennessee last month. Murphy came off the bench to run for 84 yards, many of them on third downs, for the Gators. Murray's 57-yard scamper answered the Vols' tying touchdown off a blocked punt.
Shaw ran for touchdowns against Tennessee each of the last two years, and he's scored rushing touchdowns in the Gamecocks' past two games. So far this season, he has 12 runs of 10 or more yards, with at least one in every game. He's run for at least 30 yards in every game this season and burned Vanderbilt for 84 yards on the ground.
"We've just got to keep our points on the quarterback and contain him in the pocket and make him be a [passing] quarterback," linebacker Dontavis Sapp said. "I thing we've got a pretty good back seven, and our front four, great rushers, we've just got to contain him, keep him in the pocket and make him throw the ball."
Shaw's excelling when he does that this season, too.
He ranks seventh nationally in passing efficiency, and he has completed nearly 72 percent of his passes in SEC play. Shaw and Mariota are the only quarterbacks in the country yet to throw an interception in 2013. The Gamecocks are averaging more than five plays of 20 or more yards per game.
Shaw set his career high in passing yards (356) against Tennessee last season.
"He doesn't do those stupid things a lot of quarterbacks do," Spurrier said.
Said Jancek: "He doesn't force it. If it's not there, then he uses his feet to hurt you and gain yardage and pick up first downs."
It's in that area Tennessee's defense has struggled mightily this season.
"It's frustrating, of course, because you always want to get the stop, get the key stop," Sapp said. "That's the game we play. Players are going to make plays. They're on scholarship, too. Of course they're going to make their plays. We've just got to come back and figure out how we're going to fix it and stop it the next time and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...