When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
Radio: 107.5 FM
Line: Tennessee by 13 1/2
Three Story Lines
1. Schedule strength or something more?: The Vols are on a two-game slide, having just lost to Alabama and Texas A&M after a 5-0 start. But Alabama is the top team in the land, and A&M is No. 9, with its only loss coming to the Tide. Did those losses amount to more than Tennessee just facing tough opponents?
2. Bentley rides again: South Carolina true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley was solid in his debut, granted against a squad that wasn’t all that good. The Vols defense is quite good, with one of the most talented lines in the country, so it remains to be seen how he’s introduced to SEC play.
3. Upset chances: On paper the Vols are heavy favorites, with a good chance to sweep through the end of their schedule and win the SEC East. But the last four meetings vs. USC have been three-point games, including a couple in which the underdog prevailed. It’ll be a tall task for the Gamecocks, but there’s historical precedent and Tennessee has seen several top players knocked out by injuries.
Three Players to Watch
1. Quarterback Josh Dobbs: His passing has never been quite as good as its reputation, but the longtime starter unlocks a lot on the ground with his skills as a power runner. He’s thrown for 1,525 yards, 14 scores and nine picks, against a slate of lethal passing defenses, and outside of sacks he’s rushed for 439 yards and five scores on six yards per carry.
2. Wide receiver Josh Malone: The junior has averaged 18 yards per catch as the Vols top target and is a tall target in the passing game. He’s also a play-maker who’s actually healthy, as the team could be without dynamic running back Alvin Kamara because of a knee injury. Power back Jalen Hurd has already been hobbled this year by injury.
3. Defensive end Derek Barnett: He’s one of the best defensive ends in the SEC, and that’s high praise considering the talent at Alabama and Texas A&M. He’s got six sacks, 11 1/2 tackles for loss and can even drop into coverage.
▪ The Vols offense is flexible with its personnel, moving tight ends Jason Croom and Ethan Wolf around formations to give different looks with the same groups.
▪ Most of their running plays read one unblocked defender, allowing them to get Dobbs involved. He can run with a good deal of power.
▪ The Vols defense has a 4-2-5 base, but it is flexible and often drops defensive linemen into pass coverage.
▪ The corners can play tight press coverage, and the pass defense trends away from bend-don’t-break.
▪ In several spots, the group has had trouble containing and countering jet sweeps.
▪ The Vols have been especially good recovering fumbles, both its own and others. That’s a trend that usually doesn’t last, and the Vols have fumbled 21 times in seven games.