Having a bad history against Tennessee is not that unusual for South Carolina football players. Three years of gut-wrenching losses will do that.
But D.J. Smith’s background against the Volunteers is a bit different.
A year ago, he got his first start of the season in Knoxville. He’d been working behind Jordan Diggs, and in the midst of a bad defensive season, the staff gave him a chance after making some plays as a reserve.
It did not go well.
“The first series they came out, I felt like they were coming at me a little bit,” Smith said. “They knew I was in the game. They came out the first drive and they scored.”
The next drive ended with a receiver streaking past a linebacker for a long touchdown over the middle. He was covering a tight end, but the play ended with confusion.
Smith hardly played the rest of the way.
A year earlier, he’d had a dark moment against the Vols, getting juked by quarterback Joshua Dobbs as the last line of defense on a touchdown run.
This year he’s a starter and a constant presence in the defensive backfield. He’s tied for the team lead in tackles with 46 and would have a case as the most consistent and reliable member of the back end of USC’s defense.
And now he’s got another chance.
“I feel like I need to come out and redeem myself,” Smith said. “I haven’t played really well the past two years against Tennessee, so hopefully this would be a good time.”
Who: Tennessee (5-2, 2-2 SEC) vs. South Carolina (3-4, 1-4)
When: 7:15 p.m., Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: ESPN2 Radio: 107.5 FM
Line: Tennessee by 13