By Frank Gale
Tennessee has made a habit of making mistakes at inopportune times this season and they continued against Alabama. This past Saturday they had several chances in the third quarter to make plays that could have gotten them back into contention; however, more mistakes took away any chance they might have had to compete with top ranked Alabama. The result was a lopsided 44-13 loss, leaving the entire Volunteer nation increasingly restless.
Tomorrow, the Vols travel to No. 17 South Carolina, who lately have their own problems. The Gamecocks provide the Vols with an opponent they have played close over the past 10 years. All those recent contests have been within a touchdown one way or the other in the fourth quarter. Also, the Vols hold a decided advantage of 22-6-2 against Carolina all time.
In recent years, Coach Steve Spurrier has built USC into a contender in the SEC, while the Vols have become more familiar with the other end of the standings. No doubt, Spurrier and the Gamecocks will be glad to welcome the struggling Vols to Williams-Brice Stadium tomorrow at 11 CDT, after dropping their last two away games to LSU and Florida.
The Gamecocks have a formable defense despite giving up 44 points to Florida last week. Last year, they held a Bray-less offense to three points at Neyland Stadium. The offense also is dangerous, especially when Marcus Lattimore is healthy. Coach Spurrier says that the running back’s bruised hip is better and he is expected to play significant minutes against the Vols, something Derek Dooley did not want to hear.
There has been some of the usual quarterback problems associated with Spurrier coached teams, but given the way the Tennessee secondary played last week, look for the ball in the air a lot tomorrow. With that comes a chance for redemption by the maligned Vol secondary.
Tennessee’s offense has struggled with consistency since the Georgia game. If the Vols want to get that first SEC win tomorrow, they need to have their offense resemble the unit that competed with Florida and Georgia. A less than 100-percent Lattimore would not hurt their chances either. With the heat getting hotter on Coach Dooley’s coaching seat (or should I say stool), a win could at least cool things down.
The Vols' last wins against USC came in 2006 and 2009, but those games were played at Knoxville. The SEC road is difficult, especially for this team under this staff. They only have one road victory in the SEC since 2010. (Wonder if Jim Butler knows who that was against? Hint – their campus is in Nashville!)
South Carolina has put up points comparable with the Vols this season. The difference is their defense has limited opponents to 16 points a game, while the Vols’ defense has struggled, yielding 33 points a game. Ouch! Right or wrong, the excitement surrounding the Sal Sunseri hire as the new defensive coordinator is fading fast.
Tennessee fans, not too many years ago, looked at the end of October as a point in the season when dreams of another SEC Championship were still alive, not whether the Vols would qualify for post season play. These past few years have put a strain on everyone associated with Tennessee football.
The Vols have squandered several chances this season to take a big step forward. Tomorrow is another opportunity to pave the way for a strong finish and possibly salvage this season. Maybe tomorrow, the Vols can trick the Gamecocks and treat everyone to a great weekend. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)