BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Though first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones spent Monday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway to talk about a football game he'll coach in 1,068 days, the schedule for his team remained the same.
Coming off its first open date of the season, the Volunteers practiced Sunday and took Monday off, just as the schedule set back in the offseason slated for them to do.
Tennessee still is in the heart of its schedule, with South Carolina visiting Knoxville on Saturday ahead of the Vols' trip to top-ranked Alabama to end October.
"I think their results speak for themselves," Jones said Monday of Steve Spurrier's 11th-ranked Gamecocks. "I think they're an extremely complete football team when you look at physicality, when you look at size, when you look at speed. They're coming in here with a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence, and it's going to take our best effort to compete on Saturday.
"Our players realize that. It's going to be a great opportunity for us, but we have a tremendous amount of respect for their football team. Again, everything I believe is result-oriented, and you look at their results, again, it speaks for itself."
South Carolina is on a four-game winning streak after crushing Arkansas 52-7 in Fayetteville on Saturday. While the Gamecocks were trouncing the Razorbacks, their SEC East title hopes were rejuvenated when Georgia lost to Missouri, which lost dynamic quarterback James Franklin for about a month in its win. And Florida lost at LSU.
The Gamecocks, who would need Georgia to lose a second SEC game to avoid being on the wrong end of any tiebreaker scenario, travel to Missouri after playing Tennessee and host Florida following an open date in November.
After nearly upsetting Georgia, the Vols had an extra week to get some players healthy and prepare for South Carolina.
"I thought we had a productive work week, but again it's now what we do with it," Jones said. "I thought we started the week off in the right way with a very good practice on Sunday, but again, at the end of the day, it's guys making plays, making plays in critical situations, it's possessing the ball, it's third down, it's turnover battle -- all the things it takes to play winning football."
Though star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney draws most of the attention for South Carolina, the Gamecocks' offense has improved from last season, when it averaged 376.5 yards per game. This season, South Carolina is averaging 486.5 yards per game, which is fourth in the SEC behind Texas A&M, Georgia and Missouri.
Quarterback Connor Shaw hasn't thrown an interception this season and ranks third in the league behind A&M's Johnny Manziel and LSU's Zach Mettenberger in pass efficiency, and bruising tailback Mike Davis leads the SEC with 123.7 rushing yards per game.
"They've been very impressive offensively. Connor Shaw is as good a quarterback as we've seen," said Jones, whose team has played Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Georgia's Aaron Murray this season. "He has the ability to extend plays with his legs, but his accuracy, he's very poised, he's very calm, he's in control of their offense.
"They have weapons -- great weapons -- great speed, great running backs, very strong and physical offensive line. They're deserving to be a top-10 opponent."
Tennessee hopes to get tailback Marlin Lane (toe), receiver/returner Devrin Young (hand) and defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry (knee) back for practice this week and Saturday's game.
"It's going to be," Jones said, "a great challenge for us."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ...