News of the day
Tennessee’s offense might not be moving the ball, but at least the Vols aren’t losing it.
First-year quarterback Nick Stephens has thrown 97 passes without an interception, and Tennessee has gone three games without a turnover, dating to the third quarter of a 13-9 win against Northern Illinois on Oct. 4.
“As much as they’ve been struggling, that’s saying something,” USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Thursday. “They may be frustrated, but there’s an element of discipline in there.”
Tennessee ranks 112th among 119 teams in total offense (280.6 ypg) and 100th in rushing offense (113.5 ypg), a staple for the Vols under longtime coach Phillip Fulmer. Though Arian Foster’s 100-yard game against UAB is Tennessee’s lone 100-yard rushing performance, Johnson said the Vols’ running game remains dangerous.
“Phillip’s been up there a long time. He’s an offensive line coach. And Tennessee’s running game’s going to be Tennessee’s running game every year,” Johnson said. “They’re a lot better than people think they are.”
Johnson said first-year coordinator Dave Clawson appears to have simplified the offense for Stevens, who replaced Jonathan Crompton as the starter after four games.
“The biggest thing I don’t see the variations of routes and formations,” Johnson said. “When you’ve got a young quarterback, there’s just so much you can do.”
Tailback Eric Baker, who fumbled and was knocked out of the game on his only carry against LSU, is expected to get a few more chances this week. Mike Davis will start, but coaches like Baker’s speed and shiftiness.
Left guard Jamon Meredith is questionable with a sprained left ankle. But the fifth-year senior and three-year starter seemed to have fallen out of favor prior to the injury. “He’s gimping around a little bit,” Steve Spurrier said. “He might could play if we got two or three guys hurt.”
Quote of the day
“Right now I don’t see anything happening that makes us feel like somebody’s going to be beating the doors down. We have some guys that have some tough decisions to make. But I don’t think there’s going to be any easy decisions.” – Johnson on juniors (linebacker Eric Norwood, defensive backs Captain Munnerlyn and Emanuel Cook) who are considered NFL prospects.
Spurrier does not plan to play backup quarterback Chris Smelley unless Stephen Garcia struggles in his second start. “Stephen’s going to start the game, and hopefully finish,” he said. …
Freshman tailback Kenny Miles will suit up and could play, which would burn Miles’ redshirt, Spurrier said on his call-in show. … Defensive linemen were catching balls shot out of the JUGS machine after practice; linemen dropped three interceptions the past four games. …
Defensive tackle Marque Hall, who missed the past three games with soreness in his surgically repaired knee, will see limited action early against Tennessee, Johnson said.
Munnerlyn has battled a stomach bug this week. Munnerlyn is expected to play, but coaches are concerned about dehydration issues for a player treated for cramps against LSU. Tight end and leading receiver Jared Cook (sprained right foot) appeared to be full speed Thursday, Spurrier said.
Fulmer has suspended backup cornerback Brent Vinson for the second time this season, according to the Associated Press. Vinson, who was suspended for the opener at UCLA, will miss Saturday’s game for an unspecified violation of team rules.
-- Joseph Person
Video preview: USC vs. Tennessee
University of South Carolina football beat writers Joe Person and Seth Emerson preview the Gamecocks' upcoming game against Tennessee.