South Carolina, Tennessee meet in SEC matchup
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said there’s enough blame to spread around for the Gamecocks’ failures this season.
Much of the heat has been directed at a Gamecocks’ defense that hasn’t recovered from losing five starters off last year’s stellar group, including NFL No. 1 draft pick Jadeveon Clowney.
Spurrier said last week’s 42-35 loss to No. 4 Auburn (No. 3 College Football Playoff) was a group effort with all areas having a hand in the result.
”The offense lost. The defense lost. The special teams lost. We all lost. The coaches lost,” he said. ”We weren’t good enough. It wasn’t one side of the ball or the other.”
That leaves the Gamecocks (4-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) with plenty to fix before facing Tennessee (3-5, 0-4) on Saturday night.
It’s not the year Spurrier anticipated after the Gamecocks were picked to win the SEC Eastern Division. Instead, they’ve lost their past three league contests.
A year ago, one of the Vols’ two SEC wins came at South Carolina’s expense – something Spurrier said the Gamecocks haven’t forgotten.
”Hopefully, we can get our players playing at a very high level of intensity and enthusiasm and try to have a go at Tennessee here Saturday night,” he said.
Tennessee fell to No. 3 Alabama (No. 6 CFP) last week 34-20, but outscored the Crimson Tide 20-7 over the game’s final 42 minutes. The Vols are hoping to start a late push against the Gamecocks and qualify for the postseason.
”It’s definitely a big one,” Tennessee linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin said. ”We’ve got four games to get to a bowl and every week is a new season so, all we can focus on is this one game right now to help us take steps to that bowl game.”
Things to watch when Tennessee plays at South Carolina:
SEC LOSING STREAKS: Both teams have not had much SEC success lately. The Gamecocks have lost three straight league games for the first time in five years. Tennessee has lost four straight for a second consecutive season under coach Butch Jones.
COUNT ON A CLOSE ONE: No SEC series has been closer than the Gamecocks and Vols. Since 2000, the average margin of victory is just over 8 points making it the narrowest of any regular league series between teams who’ve played at least 10 games. Nine of those 14 contests were decided by 8 points or less.
GAMBLING MAN: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier went for broke at Auburn last week, saying the best chance the Gamecocks had was holding on to the ball. Spurrier’s team made five of six fourth-down tries and recovered an on-side kick in the 42-35 loss. Don’t expect to see that this time. ”That’s not the plan this week,” Spurrier said. ”Tennessee is not ranked that high offensively in the conference.”
WHO’S PLAYING?: Tennessee starting quarterback Justin Worley missed the Alabama loss with a shoulder injury. Nathan Peterman opened the game last week, but was replaced by Joshua Dobbs who threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 75 against the Crimson Tide. Vols coach Butch Jones has not said who will start, but that Worley’s velocity is not yet where it should be to play.
The Gamecocks are without starting linebacker and top tackler Skai Moore, who sprain his right ankle in last week’s loss. Jonathan Walton will take his place.
LATT TIME HERE: Tennessee’s last appearance here was also the last college football game for South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore. The star tailback shredded his right knee just before halftime of a 38-35 win over the Vols in 2012, the second straight season his year was ended by a serious knee injury. Tennessee players came out as a group while Lattimore was being carted off that afternoon to wish him well and show support.
Lattimore returned to San Francisco 49ers’ practice this week.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.