Game Preview: Gamecocks Look To Start 2020 Season Strong In Season Opener Against The Vols

Location: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC 

Time: 7:30 PM on SEC Network 

All-Time Series: Tennessee leads 26-10-2 

Last 5 Meetings: South Carolina leads 3-2 

The Gamecocks and Volunteers have provided some great games in recent years. Seven of the last eight meetings have been decided by 6 points or less, and six of the eight have been within 3 points.

The lone exception to this was obviously the 2019 season, where Tennessee won 41-21 and exploded for almost 500 yards of offense.

This year, however, should be back to the norm for this matchup. Whichever way it goes, it will almost certainly be decided by one possession.

Let’s take a look at how these two programs match up in 2020. 

When the Vols Have the Ball

The best position group on Tennessee’s entire team is the offensive line. It is absolutely loaded with talent, and has plenty of experience as well.

There are five-star recruits all across the line, whether or not Georgia transfer Cade Mays is able to play on Saturday. The good news is, the Gamecock’s defensive line is the deepest, arguably the most talented position group on the team.

The battle of the trenches when Tennessee is on offense will be good on good, and will go a long way in deciding who wins this game.

Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is back for his senior season and needs to find consistency if Tennessee is going to have a good year. His career has been a roller coaster so far, and Tennessee has other talented options waiting for their turn if Guarantano can not deliver.

Running back Eric Gray looks to break out this season after showing flashes as a freshman last season.

He will have to share carries with seasoned senior Ty Chandler, and both of them are solid options running the football.

The Tennessee wide receiver room is going to have a few new faces after losing a couple top options, but the group will not be a liability. Josh Palmer is the lone returning starter and should be viewed as the top option.

The Gamecocks secondary is obviously very good, and should do their job forcing Guarantano to throw into tight windows.

However, it all goes back to the offensive line. Every other position on Tennessee’s offense is largely dependent on if the Vols OL can contain the Gamecocks DL.

South Carolina should be able to trust the secondary enough to throw in blitz packages on passing downs, which will be a big advantage.

While I give the Vols a slight, slight edge at the line of scrimmage, the Gamecocks have the edge on the back end of the defense, which should make for a pretty even battle.

With it being so evenly matched, this side of the ball will come down to coaching and playcalling. The Gamecocks did not force a turnover against Tennessee last season, and that must change this year if we want to have our best shot at starting 1-0. 


UT OL vs SC DL: Edge, Tennessee

UT RB vs SC LB: Push 

UT WR vs SC DB: Edge, South Carolina 

When the Gamecocks Have the Ball 

South Carolina’s offense has more than its fair share of unknowns heading into this season.

Other than the offensive line, every position has little or no SEC experience under their belt at this point. That’s not to say that there isn’t potential or that the offense wont be successful, but there is just a lack of experience.

Obviously Collin Hill is playing his first game for the Gamecocks after transferring from the Mountain West conference, and the level of play is going to be much better than anything he has seen so far.

The running back position will start as a committee and will likely have a feed-the-hot-hand approach between Fenwick and Harris.

South Carolina has six wide receivers listed on the two-deep depth chart, only one of them is an upperclassman.

Shi Smith is a senior, who will have to find consistency to solidify himself as the top receiving option. Beyond him, there are two sophomores and three freshman. Two of those players have moved over from the quarterback position.

Needless to say, other options will have to step up quickly for South Carolina to have a potent passing attack. The good news is that SEC games are won in the trenches, and the Gamecocks have a reliable offensive line this season.

The Tennessee defensive line is no slouch, but the South Carolina skill positions should benefit from the offensive line being formidable.

As far as the Tennessee defense, there is talent at all three levels, although most of it is inexperienced as well.

Henry To’o To’o will be the leader of the pack at linebacker. After having the second most tackles on the team as a freshman in 2019, he is primed for an even more productive season.

Most South Carolina fans are familiar with Bryce Thompson, who has grown into a reliable cornerback in the SEC. Alongside him is Alontae Taylor, which makes for one of the better cornerback duos in the SEC.

Again, it all boils down to who wins in the trenches.

If Collin Hill has time to throw and the running backs have holes to get through, South Carolina’s offense will have a productive day.

If the offensive line does not step up, it will be a long night for Will Muschamp. 


SC OL vs UT DL: Push 

SC RB vs UT LB: Edge, Tennessee 

SC WR vs UT DB: Edge, Tennessee 

SC QB vs UT QB: Edge, South Carolina 

SC Coaching vs Tennessee Coaching: Push 

Final Analysis 

As is the case most years, these two teams are very similar. In terms of talent, coaching, and schemes, the Vols and Gamecocks are near identical.

Special Teams might just be the unsung hero of this game. One big play or one costly mistake could certainly be the turning point.

If special teams are a wash as they should be, the game will be decided by three major aspects: quarterback play, winning in the trenches, and coaching/playcalling/adjustments.

Expect this game to be classic SEC football. Low scoring, somewhat slow and mostly defensive. 

Final Prediction: 23-20 Tennessee

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