Gameday prep: Storylines to watch against Tennessee

Week three into the Shawn Elliott era at South Carolina and still not much is known about this team.

The Gamecocks didn’t play their best against Vanderbilt but pulled out a win. Then they went to Texas A&M, played arguably their best game of the season, but lost in the end.

Now, the Gamecocks travel to Knoxville for a showdown with Tennessee.

With only four games remaining and the Gamecocks needing three wins to become bowl eligible, the Tennessee game is essentially a must-win so South Carolina doesn’t have to upset both No. 11 Florida and No. 3 Clemson at the end of the season.

They’ll try to do it with the majority of the same lineup that almost won in College Station last weekend: Orth is still the quarterback, Wilds is behind him, Pharoh is on the team and the defense still has Skai Moore and T.J. Holloman.

Here are some storylines to keep up with as the Gamecocks take on the Volunteers Saturday at 4 p.m.

Will the Gamecocks establish an effective running game?

In the Texas A&M game, Brandon Wilds looked almost unstoppable against the Aggie defense, rushing for 130 yards and a touchdown. He averaged over 7 yards per carry, and will need a day like that against a defense allowing 160 yards rushing per game. If Wilds can continue his performance from last week and the Gamecocks can control the clock, then it keeps the Vol offense averaging 424 yards per game off the field.

Can the defense contain Josh Dobbs?

The mention of Josh Dobbs can send chills through Carolina fans’ minds as they remember last year where Dobbs rushed for 166 yards, passed for 301 and scored five touchdowns. He’s still the primary weapon on offense, passing for 1,505 yards and rushing for another 587 in eight games this season. If the defense can pressure him and limit his play-making ability, then the Tennessee offense could sputter.

How many points can the Gamecocks score?

The Gamecocks have only scored 28 points twice this season and only once in SEC play. Against A&M the offense looked well oiled and moved the ball around the field well. Tennessee is averaging around 36 points per game, and the Gamecocks will need to score around that if they want to walk out Saturday with a win.

Can the defensive line stop the run?

Tennessee’s best offensive strategy is the run; the Vols have rushed for over 200 yards in five games this season, including all four of their wins. The defense has to stuff the run and can’t let Dobbs and leading rusher Jalen Hurd get into the secondary. If the defense can stop the run, then it could make Tennessee one-dimensional.

Will the team continue to keep up their upward trajectory?

After winning their opener under Elliott and looking cohesive against A&M it’ll be interesting to see if the team continues to play with energy. Elliott said this week the team isn’t tired and players are beginning to have fun again. Both things are recipes for success in college football.

Prediction:  South Carolina 34, Tennessee 31