The South Carolina-Tennessee rivalry holds historical significance.
In 1992, the Vols lost to South Carolina, costing them a trip to the first SEC championship game. That loss also ended up costing coach Johnny Majors his job.
In 2008, the Vols lost to South Carolina. Two days later, coach Phillip Fulmer announced that he was stepping down after 150 wins, two conference titles and one national championship.
On Saturday, the Vols play host to South Carolina, and once again the coach at Tennessee has a future on the sidelines that is by no means crystal clear.
The 2017 season has not been a cakewalk for Vols coach Butch Jones. There have been heartbreaking losses (Florida) and blowouts (Georgia). There has been elation (Georgia Tech) and frustration (UMass).
Little has come easy for the Vols and now Tennessee faces a South Carolina team coming off a 48-22 victory over Arkansas. The Gamecocks scored three defensive touchdowns in the second half, and quarterback Jake Bentley had three touchdown passes of his own.
It’s well-documented that the Vols never have beaten a Will Muschamp-coached team: 0-5 all-time. Butch Jones himself is winless in four matchups against Muschamp, who has become a thorn in Tennessee’s side.
He might look like a crazy man at times on the sidelines, but Muschamp has been able to outsmart Tennessee time and time again.
If the Vols are going to finally turn the tide, their quarterback play must improve. Quinten Dormady has been benched in favor of redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Dormady has six interceptions this season and Tennessee’s offense has gone more than six quarters without a touchdown. Perhaps the change will provide a spark for a team that desperately needs one.
On defense, the Vols will be without junior end Darrell Taylor. He already had been for the first half because of his ejection in the Georgia game. On Monday, Jones announced that Taylor was suspended indefinitely, reportedly because he kicked teammate Trey Smith in the face during a scuffle in practice. Being without arguably their best lineman is going to make the defense’s job that much more difficult.
South Carolina’s losses to Kentucky and Texas A&M really don’t look bad these days. The Gamecocks aren’t going to win the East, but this is a better team than expected, even without the injured Deebo Samuel, one of the top receivers in the SEC.
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Last season’s loss by Tennessee at South Carolina came off a bye week, an inexcusable setback that cost Tennessee a spot in the SEC title game. (A loss at Vandy after Thanksgiving would have done the trick as well.)
A loss this season after a bye week would drop the Vols to 3-3 on the season with half the schedule still remaining. Considering all the turmoil surrounding the program, it is the biggest game in the Butch Jones era.
The bye week has given Tennessee some extra time to try to find some answers. I just don’t think the answers are easy to come by these days.
Fearless Prediction time …
South Carolina 24, Tennessee 14
(Mark’s “Fearless Prediction” record in 2017: 4-1)
(You can follow Mark Nagi on Twitter @MarkNagi)
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