South Carolina football: Q & A with All for Tennessee

Shi Smith #13 of the South Carolina Gamecocks. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)
Shi Smith #13 of the South Carolina Gamecocks. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images) /

What should the South Carolina football team expect to see from Tennessee?

South Carolina is just a day away from its season opening matchup with the Tennessee Volunteers. With the game creeping ever so close, Garnet and Cocky decided to chat with the folks over at All for Tennessee to get a little insight into the Volunteer program.

Talking with their insiders provided us with a few things to keep an eye on in the week one matchup. Check out our conversation with site editor Caleb Calhoun below.

"GnC: Caleb, the Vols return a solid group in 2020 after winning their final six games of last year. What do you see as being the team’s greatest strength?AFT: This year, the Vols’ biggest strength is their offensive line. Trey Smith is a preseason All-American, and they started two true freshmen at left and right tackle last year in Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright, who should take major strides. Brandon Kennedy is a sixth-year senior at center, so he’s the glue guy that holds everything together. The other guard spot is open, but if Georgia transfer Cade Mays gets cleared to play by the SEC, he’ll step right in. If not, Jerome Carvin, K’Rojhn Calber, Riley Locklear and Jahmir Johnson are all experienced rotational guys, so they should be able to step in. GnC: What about the biggest question mark?AFT: Receivers and linebackers are both huge questions. Last year, UT relied heavily on Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway in the passing game, and both are gone along with top receiving tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson. Josh Palmer and Brandon Johnson have a good bit of experience, and Ramel Keyton is a rising star, but none of them have proven they can be a No. 1 or even a No. 2 wideout yet.At linebacker, the Vols lost the leader of their defense in Daniel Bituli. Henry To’o To’o is expected to fill the void, and he had a great true freshman season, but he was no Bituli, and with To’o To’o taking Bituli’s spot, there’s no clear-cut person to take To’o To’o’s spot as the other starting inside linebacker. Quavaris Crouch and Jeremy Banks have shown flashes, but we have no way of knowing how good they can be as starters.Outside linebacker is another question, as the Vols lost Darrell Taylor, their best pass rusher each of the past two years. Taylor was Tennessee football’s highest pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, a second-rounder, and while Kivon Bennett had a mini-breakout year last year and Deandre Johnson is a veteran, we don’t know what they’ll be able to do without Taylor. GnC: What’s your personal level of confidence in quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to lead the Tennessee offense?AFT: What people don’t realize about Jarrett Guarantano is that on paper, despite not racking up a lot of yards, being yanked in three games last year and not starting half the season, he actually has very efficient numbers. Over the past two years with Jeremy Pruitt at the helm, he has completed over 60 percent of his passes with 28 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and an average of over eight yards an attempt.Guarantano’s main problem is consistency, and the reason that’s an issue is he’s not very accurate. Because of the way his accuracy comes and goes and the fact that he hesitates to make decisions at times, he makes a lot of throws that just look awful. Without Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, he’ll have an even harder time this year getting away with delayed decisions and inaccurate passes.However, we have to be fair. As a fifth-year senior, this is Guarantano’s first year in which he is playing under the same offensive coordinator and a quarterbacks coach. He had a different one each year in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. It’s also worth noting that when Pruitt replaced Butch Jones, he had to make a switch from the spread offense to the pro-style offense. Another year under Jim Chaney and Chris Weinke could be very beneficial to him, and you could see him take a major leap forward.After all, there are some positive attributes. He’s got a big arm, he can stand in the pocket and make good throws while being hit, and his teammates respect him. Stability in the coaching staff may be all he needs to finally get that consistency, and that’s why I have confidence in him to be a lot better than last year. GnC: Who’s the go-to player on the Volunteer offense?AFT: Eric Gray was a true freshman running back last year who exploded late in the season. Until the final regular season game, he only had 207 rushing yards and no rushing touchdowns.However, Gray exploded with a three-touchdown, 246-yard performance against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Then he had 120 yards from scrimmage, including 86 rushing yards, and scored the game-winning touchdown in the comeback win to beat the Indiana Hoosiers in the Gator Bowl. He also recovered the key onside kick to set up the game-winning score.Entering his sophomore year and with a much more experienced line, Gray could explode. Ty Chandler is still there as the senior all-purpose back, but there’s a chance Gray becomes the superstar on a weekly basis. GnC: What about a player to look out for on defense?AFT: Cornerback Bryce Thompson is a South Carolina native who was a freshman All-American in 2018 with three interceptions. Last year, he missed the first two games of the year due to an off-the-field issue and never got quite back into what we might call football rhythm because of that. However, he still managed to not allow a touchdown all year in coverage, and he had three interceptions in one game against the UAB Blazers.This year, provided he stays in rhythm, he could be the breakout star he was expected to be last year. More pressure will be put on him to shut down half the field, as the Vols have to offset the loss of safety Nigel Warrior, the glue guy who kept the secondary together. However, nickel Shawn Shamburger is back to help with that, and he forced the worst quarterback rating on passes to slot receivers of any defensive back last year, while also not allowing touchdowns in coverage. His presence could help Thompson remain aggressive at cornerback, so don’t be surprised if Thompson becomes an interception machine in the process. GnC: Is there a surprise player we’re not talking about who could impact Saturday’s game?AFT: Defensive end LaTrell Bumphus was tied for second on the team last year in tackles for a loss with six. He did that despite not being a starter and adjusting to his first year playing on the defensive side of the ball.This year, Bumphus is penciled in as a starter for the Vols’ opener. With more playing time and more experience at the position, he could become a breakout star on the line. Everybody is talking about other linemen like Matthew Butler, Darel Middleton, Aubrey Solomon and Greg Emerson, but Bumphus may be the surprise of the group. GnC: Last, but not least, what’s your final score prediction?AFT: Last year’s game was a surprising shootout, with the Vols winning 41-21. It won’t be that high-scoring this year, but I don’t see a defensive struggle happening either. The Vols have questions that could affect the front seven of the defense, including their pass rush and their interior linebackers, but they have a loaded offensive line and proved last year they could score on South Carolina.Because of this, I think Tennessee football wins, but they’ll have to score to do it. The Vols appear to have more talent at the moment, and while South Carolina has the advantage playing in Columbia, the limited capacity of home stadiums would seem to really neutralize the home field advantage this year. UT wins by a touchdown.Tennessee: 30 South Carolina: 23"

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