Josh Kendall

Five burning questions for South Carolina versus Tennessee

South Carolina (3-3 overall, 2-3 SEC) plays Tennessee (3-4, 1-3) on Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Here are the top five burning questions headed into that game.

Will the night time be the right time?

The Gamecocks finally get the home night game they have been hoping for (and lobbying for behind the scenes) all season long. Now, the question is, can they win it? Williams-Brice Stadium earned a reputation as a scary place after dark during South Carolina’s heyday. The Gamecocks were 5-0 in home night games in 2013 season, but South Carolina is just 2-6 in home night games since that time. There’s no question the energy will be high when the game starts, but the Gamecocks will have to play well to keep it that way. We’ve seen the home stadium clear out a couple times before the game was over this season, and South Carolina coaches and players don’t want to see that happen Saturday.

Can Gamecocks avoid slow start?

South Carolina has been outscored 60-17 in the last three first halves, and the Gamecocks spent part of their off week trying to figure out how to reverse that trend. The Gamecocks scored four first half touchdowns in the season opener against Coastal Carolina. They have totaled five first half touchdowns in the five games since. Getting wide receiver Deebo Samuel involved early could be one solution. Samuel hasn’t scored a first half touchdown this season. Tennessee, which has started similarly slow all season, is a 7.5-point underdog and will gain lots of confidence if it can take a lead into the halftime locker room.

Can Jake Bentley rein in his emotions?

South Carolina’s junior quarterback said this week he needs to be more even-keeled. Bentley cemented himself as the Gamecocks starting quarterback two years ago in an upset win over the Volunteers. He can steady that status in this game. Bentley has completed 60.5 percent of his passes this season for 1,151 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. No SEC quarterback has thrown more interceptions than Bentley, and he believes trying too hard to make a play is one of the reasons for that. Keeping his emotions in check will be especially difficult for Bentley in a night game.

Can Muschamp continue beating Vols?

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp is 6-0 against Tennessee as a head coach. It hasn’t always been easy. In fact, the last three games have been decided by 10 points total and the average margin of victory is less than a touchdown. Muschamp was asked this week what the secret behind that winning streak is. “We have had more points when the game was over with,” he responded with a laugh. “I don’t know. I really don’t.” Whatever it is, the Gamecocks head coach needs to continue it Saturday.

How big a difference will D.J. Wonnum make?

The Gamecocks have played the last five games without their most productive defensive lineman. The junior defensive end is now back after rehabbing an ankle injury suffered in the first game of the year. Without Wonnum in the lineup, South Carolina is among the SEC’s worst in rushing defense and sacks. Muschamp believes Wonnum will help in both areas.

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