It's easy to forget, in the blizzard of reports about Tennessee's recent tough luck and the portrayals of South Carolina as a program on the rise, that the Vols are not really on a losing streak against the Gamecocks. They've lost two of three, which is disappointing by Tennessee's historical standards, but Lane Kiffin (of all people) claimed a victory in that middle game.
That means that South Carolina has still never defeated Tennessee in back-to-back games. Ever. No other team that South Carolina has played as often (29 times) holds that distinction against the Gamecocks -- not even Florida, though the Gators have never lost to South Carolina in consecutive years. (South Carolina's back-to-back wins came in 1936 and 1939, so it's also not like it's a recent occurrence.)
So Derek Dooley and Justin Worley have history at their backs as they host the Gamecocks this evening. And they have some recent history with them as well -- the season-ending injury two weeks ago to South Carolina's
entire offense star running back Marcus Lattimore. If the Vols can take an early lead, and use that to get the crowd behind them, it's not hard to see this game and possibly a share of the SEC East lead getting away from the Gamecocks.
Still, Steve Spurrier has had two weeks to try to figure out how to use some combination of new starter Brandon Wilds, the running ability of quarterback Connor Shaw, wideout sweeps to Damiere Byrd and wildcat formations with Bruce Ellington to fill some of the hole left behind by Lattimore. South Carolina can't fill that hole entirely; it's simply not possible. But they can win at least this game if they come close enough, and if Steve Spurrier is really back near the top of his game, he's as good a bet as any to actually scheme up that much of a replacement.
The encouraging sign for South Carolina is that Tennessee has trouble running the ball, while the much-criticized Gamecocks secondary and a marauding defensive line has turned the unit into one of the best in the country in pass defense. (First in yardage in the NCAA and third in efficiency, with only Alabama ahead of them in the SEC standings.) Given a choice between the two, we'll give it narrowly to the Gamecocks.
South Carolina 24, Tennessee 21