Football Preview: South Carolina vs. Tennessee

USC Gamecocks

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – Football makes its return to Columbia this Saturday as the South Carolina Gamecocks get ready to take on the Tennessee Volunteers at Williams-Brice Stadium. 

For the home team, Collin Hill gets the nod at quarterback. A fifth-year transfer from Colorado State, Hill has been efficient in eighteen games played tossing 23 touchdowns to 11 interceptions with a 137 quarterback rating and a completion percentage above 60 percent. He joins his former head coach, now offensive coordinator, in Mike Bobo to run a balanced attack.

“We’re doing similar to stuff to like we were doing at CSU,” said Hill. “This offense is multiple, we can do a lot of different things, and I think that’s what we’re going to try to do. Just do different stuff, try to get it to our guys, and we’ll see what happens.”

This will also be a homecoming for the Dorman grad as well. As the Gamecocks prepare to welcome a limited number of fans on Saturday, Hill’s friends and family are sure to be among those in the crowd. This will be the first time in several years that his family won’t have to travel far to see him play.

“We can just get on the highway and you’re there, and we’ll sleep in our own bed,” said Hill’s mother Missy. “And we’ll get home on Sunday afternoon instead of doing all that traveling. It’ll just be such a pleasant weekend.”

“He’s worked so hard, and he’s really gone through a lot to get himself in a position to be able to go back and compete, so we’re excited for him and really grateful,” added his father Trey.

“It’ll mean a lot,” said Hill. “I remember coming down to games when I was a kid just wondering what it would be like to play here, thinking that maybe one day I could play here. And then to be able to transfer in and have that opportunity I’m really excited, I can’t wait for kick. “

The passing game will be tested against the stingy Vols, who present an experienced secondary including star corner Bryce Thompson. He’ll likely see plenty of Shi Smith, the Gamecocks top returning wideout. Smith exploded for 11 catches, 156 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee in their lone matchup last season. Tennessee won, however, 41-21, as they held the Gamecocks scoreless in the second half. 

South Carolina struggled on the ground in their matchup last season, rushing for under one hundred yards and fewer than four yards per carry. It’ll be a difficult task for the team in the opener with a young backfield and a slew of talented young Tennessee defensive linemen. But if they’re able to establish the run, they’ll have a good chance at opening things up through the air with their veteran quarterback. 

“I’ve been very pleased with Mike [Bobo] has done and our offensive staff, and the buy-in from our offensive players,” said Head Coach Will Muschamp. “We’ve had more success offensively in a fall camp than we’ve had in a long time here as far as being productive, being aggressive, doing the things we need to do to be successful.”

“Everybody’s just going out there getting work in and just whoever coach puts out there I feel like any guy in the [receiver] corps can go out there and make the play,” said senior receiver Shi Smith. “I feel like the whole offense as a whole, that’s the strength. We need to run the ball to balance, and then we’ve got to be able to throw the ball and we’ve got to go out there and make plays for them.”

The Volunteers return experience under center with senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. He helped Tennessee average 366 yards per game in 2019 and threw a career high 16 touchdowns. But he also threw a career high eight interceptions, something the Gamecocks can take advantage of. Tennessee has plenty of youth in the receiving corps, but Josh Palmer is the only one to return as a starter. With as strong of a secondary as they have, and some five star recruits along the defensive line, South Carolina could force Guarantano into some errant throws, and potential turnovers. 

“Just playing with good eyes, good discipline throughout the whole game,” said junior cornerback Jaycee Horn. “They’ve got a lot of wacky plays, so we just gotta stay focused and locked in the whole game…[they do] a lot of motions, a lot of shifts, over routes, stuff like that to mess up the communication in the secondary. It’s easy to leave a guy running free with the offense they run.”

Slowing the Tennessee rushing attack led by a solid duo in Ty Chandler and Eric Gray could be South Carolina’s best chance at securing victory in the opener. Both are due for expanded roles in 2020 and have recorded over five yards per carry in their careers. 

“There’s going to be a lot of similarities for both defenses Saturday night,” said Muschamp. “I think Jim [Chaney/Tennessee Offensive Coordinator] is going to stay balanced. He’s got great experience. He knows how to attack people in personnel, so those are all things because of his experience at the position, I think he’s really good at what he does.”

Both teams have similar strengths and weaknesses. And Will Muschamp has led the Gamecocks to a 3-1 record against the Volunteers during his tenure. We’ll see if he can get them that fourth win Saturday under the lights in Columbia. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

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