Five game storylines, five questions with Spencer Lanning and more.
New Mouth of the South
For a guy who has managed to offend an entire community in Florida to the SEC's officials, Tennessee first-year coach Lane Kiffin was surprisingly quiet this week on USC wideout Alshon Jeffery, whom he told would pump gas for the rest of his life if he signed with the Gamecocks. Likewise, Steve Spurrier said nothing about Kiffin. The more relevant matchup will be Spurrier's ability to find gaps in Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 defense.
Has USC caught Tennessee?
With a win tonight, the Gamecocks will be threatening to move past UT into the top half of the SEC East. USC enters the game with an 18-19 conference record in four-plus seasons under Spurrier, while the Vols have an 18-18 mark during that span. After Lou Holtz was 0-6 against UT, Spurrier is 2-2 against his home-state school.
Spurrier has been looking for a way to get Jeffery and Tori Gurley on the field at the same time. The two tall targets - Jeffery is 6-3, Gurley 6-5 - have combined for 45 receptions for 761 yards and five touchdowns, but play the same wideout spot. Jeffery missed a practice this week with a stomach bug, but should be fine for his first trip to Rocky Top.
Bring the 'wood
Gamecocks linebacker Eric Norwood is the SEC sack leader with six, but has gone four weeks without a sack. USC wants to force Tennessee into throwing downs, so the Gamecocks can go after Vols quarterback Jonathan Crompton (10 interceptions) and try to force him into mistakes. Norwood has been drawing his share of double-team blocks, but has to put his stamp on this game.
By a foot in Knoxville
USC's past two games at Tennessee have been decided by a field goal. Josh Brown made a game-winner for the Gamecocks in 2005, while Ryan Succop missed a 40-yarder in overtime in 2007 after the Vols' Daniel Lincoln connected from 27 yards. Lincoln is coming off a rough game at Alabama, where he had two field goals blocked and was short on another.
Game Within The Game
QB Stephen Garcia vs. S Eric Berry
About Garcia: The redshirt sophomore has exceeded expectations in his first full season as a starter. Garcia is second in the SEC in total offense (236.6 yards a game) and has done a good job limiting turnovers with one notable exception - an interception on his first pass at Alabama that Mark Barron returned 77 yards for a touchdown.
How he'll win:
Garcia will have to be mindful of where Berry is on the field and be sure not to telegraph his throws. Steve Spurrier will try to help Garcia by sending in audibles from the sideline after seeing where Berry aligns. It falls on Garcia to protect the ball, look off Berry and make plays against a Tennessee pass defense ranked sixth in the country.
4, interceptions thrown by Garcia, who had eight in eight games last season.
Berry is the NCAA's active interception leader with 13 picks and is closing in on Terrell Buckley's NCAA record for career interception return yards. Berry picked off Garcia in last year's game in Columbia and returned it 45 yards before Kenny McKinley corralled him around midfield.
How he'll win:
Because of Berry's coverage and run-stopping skills, the Vols often will bring him closer to the line of scrimmage to give offenses a different look in Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 scheme. Other times, Berry will align deeper and try to get a jump on Garcia's downfield throws.
7.9, Berry's average tackles per game, which ranks eighth in the SEC. He is the only defensive bank among the conference's top 17 tacklers
Five Questions with K Spencer Lanning
Kicker/Punter No. 34 Rock Hill
After a shaky start at N.C. State, Lanning has connected on 12 of his past 13 field goals and is fourth in the SEC in punting with a 42.3-yard average.
You're a golfer. What's your low round?
I shot 84, and that was out here at Oak Hills in Columbia. I actually chipped one in from about 80 feet away. I hit the shot of my life. I wasn't really trying to do it, but it hit and stuck and just sort of rolled in the hole. The kickers go out and try to hit a couple balls every now and then. We're gonna try to get a couple rounds in before it gets cold. It's always good to go out there and play a round with these guys, get them off the football field.
Ryan Succop had a chance to golf with Steve Spurrier. Would you want to do that?
No. From what I've heard, he puts a lot of pressure on his players. Succop's a scratch golfer, and I think he lost by one or two strokes. Coach Spurrier was so excited that he beat him. He was rubbing it in his face and telling us, 'Go and ask Succop about it,' and all kinds of stuff.
What sport would you play Spurrier in?
What sport? I hope he'd play something I'm good at like soccer or tennis or something like that. Not golf, though. He'd wear me out in golf.
Do you ever just on a whim, if you're filling out a form at school, write your name as 'Lanning Spencer' (what Spurrier calls him)?
I should. That'd be fun to mess with people. The people I know who actually know who I am always call me 'Spencer.' I met a guy the other day, at the fair actually, who came up and said, 'Lanning!' He introduced me to his wife: 'This is Lanning Spencer. This is the punter for the Gamecocks.' I was just like, 'Hey, how ya doing?' I sort of kept going with it. I didn't want to burst his bubble.
This Tennessee game's come down to a field goal the last couple of years in Knoxville. Have you envisioned going to Rocky Top and being out there for the game-winner like Josh Brown in 2005?
You try to put yourself in that position as much as you can, so when you get out there and that opportunity's presented to you, you can handle it in the best way. For that opportunity, it'd be awesome. To throw your team over. It'd give us a huge win on the road. This is a big game for us. This is a turning point in our season. And if we can go out there and put a good performance together, who knows what can happen.
Joe Person's prediction: South Carolina 20, Tennessee 17
About the detour
It will take USC fans longer to get to Knoxville, Tenn., for the Gamecocks-Vols game this weekend because of a massive rock slide on Interstate 40.
The official detour, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, carries motorists on I-240 in Asheville to I-26, then to I-81 South in Tennessee and back to I-40 West.
That will add at least 50 miles each way for the trip. Travel experts said motorists should allow at least an extra hour of driving time because of I-40 detour.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. Tennessee officials said stadium gates will open at 5:45 p.m.
DOT officials said I-40 is closed at mile marker 2.6 in North Carolina, near the Tennessee state line, due to the rock slide that occurred about 2 a.m. Sunday. Gov. Bev Perdue signed an emergency declaration Wednesday to help with the cleanup.
Although the process is expected to take months, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported the state does not have a precise timetable for clearing rocks from the slide.