The Tennessee Vols have a pivotal matchup with the South Carolina Gamecocks coming up on Saturday. The game presents an opportunity for the Big Orange and first-year coach Josh Heupel to build on an impressive win over Missouri. And while I know that most fans and analysts think that Ole Miss presents the real chance for a “statement” victory, the SC game also gives UT a nice shot to make noise in the college football world.
Here’s three ways they can make themselves heard loud and clear…
Show that the Missouri game wasn’t a fluke
The Vols played borderline perfect football in Columbia, MO last weekend. In the first half alone, they scored six straight touchdowns and held the Tigers to just 10 points. Against South Carolina, I’m not expecting another completely comprehensive beat down but it would say a lot if Heupel and his squad can go out and efficiently take care of business this week.
What’s the old saying… good teams win but great teams cover? Well, the Vols are a 10.5 point favorite over the Gamecocks and if UT can roll to a comfortable double-digit win, hopes will be high and the pregame chatter will be loud with Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss Rebels coming to town on October 16th. Tennessee will need all the confidence and cohesion that it can get going into the matchup with its old head coach and continuing the profound play we saw last Saturday would bring a lot of both.
Continue Hendon Hooker’s progression
From the moment that quarterback Hendon Hooker came in for an injured Joe Milton, it’s been fairly clear that he needed to be the guy under center for the Vols. Heupel flat-out said that Hooker’s his man this week and as exciting as that might be, there’s an intimidating situation coming up for Hooker: Continuing to play at a high level. Hooker was 15-19 for 225 yards through the air with 80 rushing yards and four total touchdowns against Mizzou. It’s hard to be more efficient than that but Hooker will have to keep up the good work to win more SEC football games. If he can play more mistake-free football and build upon his success so far, that bodes incredibly well for UT.
We all know college football is now a quarterback-driven game and Hooker emerging as one of the better, more consistent signal-callers in the SEC would be a massive development for the Vols and very concerning for everyone else in the league.
Keep bringing more heat defensively
This is really the element that I think could turn the eyes of the college football onto Knoxville. UT’s offense was expected to be good with Heupel at the helm but the Vols’ defense has been an unexpected and more than welcome surprise during the 2021 campaign thus far.
Tim Banks’s unit is keeping opponents to 21.8 points per game and it has held up admirably against teams who are averaging almost 34 minutes of possession time due to the speed of Heupel’s offense. Missouri was averaging almost 39 points per game before facing UT and they were held to 24 points on 10 possessions and UT forced two turnovers.
The defense hasn’t been herculean but given the preseason circumstances and lack of apparent roster depth, things have gone better than expected. If the Big Orange defense clamps down again against South Carolina, heads should begin to turn because Heupel’s offense paired with a fairly good defense is a scary combination.
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