The surreal state of the Southeastern Conference can be illustrated with this thought: It’s possible that South Carolina could overlook Tennessee in Saturday’s game in Neyland Stadium.
The Gamecocks (4-2, 2-2 SEC) will say that’s not possible, toeing the conventional “one game at a time” line, but the reality of the situation at least makes it conceivable. The last time the Volunteers (3-2, 2-2) played, they lost 41-0 to Georgia, marking their worst home loss in more than 100 years. In the two weeks they’ve had off since, they have switched starting quarterbacks, going from Quinten Dormady, who is averaging 6.75 passing yards per attempt, to Jarrett Guarantano, who is averaging 2.25 yards per attempt.
There have been rumors that Dormady is going to transfer. There have been rumors that coach Butch Jones’ firing is imminent. Neither of those things have happened, but it’s getting ugly in Big Orange country.
“I haven’t heard much really,” South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore said. “I don’t really know too much about what’s going on off the field.”
That’s exactly the right approach for the Gamecocks to be taking.
“We just have to approach it how we approach any other team,” USC running back A.J. Turner said. “We never overlook any team, no matter what conference they’re in or what they do or what they look like the week before. I feel like we just go in there and play our game, do what we did last week, I feel like we’ll be fine.”
The Volunteers were ranked No. 25 in the country in the preseason. They rose as high as No. 23 before the wheels started falling off. First, there was the late Hail Mary loss to Florida. Then, there was a 17-13 squeaker against a UMass team that is 0-6 this season. Then, there was a 41-point loss to the Bulldogs.
“We were watching the Georgia game; they did some good things,” South Carolina offensive lineman Donell Stanley said.
That must have been some serious editing the South Carolina coaches did before they showed that film to their team, but that’s exactly their job, to make sure the Gamecocks are focused despite the flurry of discouraging vibes coming out of the opponent’s program.
“It’s the SEC East, we are locked in,” Moore said. “If anyone feels (like South Carolina can overlook Tennessee), we are checking it as soon as we see that. We are locked in for sure.”
If they are, the Gamecocks have a very good chance to win despite being 2.5-point underdogs. South Carolina is 2-16 all-time in Knoxville, with the last victory coming in 2011, but there’s no denying that Tennessee looks vulnerable. Not that the Gamecocks aren’t. They are .500 in the SEC and still have rebuilding to do as a program, but they have a chance to finish in the top half of the division this year if they can handle the Volunteers on Saturday.
“We just try to focus on what they do on the field,” quarterback Jake Bentley said.
That would be the best approach.