Tennessee offense finally showing signs of life
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee's dormant offense finally may be awakening just in time for the stretch run.
After failing to score a touchdown in two straight Southeastern Conference games, Tennessee gained 383 yards last week in a 34-20 loss to No. 3 Alabama, which was ranked fourth at the time. Tennessee's 181 yards rushing were the most allowed by Alabama all season.
''It's definitely important just to show everybody what we can do and, most importantly, to prove to us as a team that we can do that, (that) we have playmakers and we can make those big plays and things like that,'' freshman running back Jalen Hurd said.
That performance gives Tennessee (3-5, 0-4 SEC) confidence heading into Saturday's game at South Carolina, which has given up 32.8 points per game to match Vanderbilt for the worst scoring defense in the SEC.
The Gamecocks (4-4, 2-4) are allowing 6.5 yards per play, the most of any SEC team. Tennessee is gaining 4.5 yards per play, the lowest average in the SEC.
''We are coaching very similarly to what we used to do,'' South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. ''We do have a lot of young, different players out there. It is a different defense from last year. We thought we would be a little bit better than we are now, but it didn't work out that way.''
South Carolina now faces a Tennessee offense that may be just getting into gear.
Tennessee has struggled to move the ball effectively all season while starting as many as five true freshmen on offense, but the Volunteers adapted well to some new combinations against Alabama.
A shoulder injury sidelined senior quarterback Justin Worley and gave sophomore Joshua Dobbs an opportunity to showcase his versatility. After Nathan Peterman went 2 of 4 for 10 yards on Tennessee's first two series, Dobbs entered the game and threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 75 yards on 19 carries.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones hasn't named a starter for Saturday's game. Jones indicated Worley's status depends on if he's healthy enough to throw with the necessary velocity to compete at the SEC level. Jones said Wednesday night on his call-in radio show that Worley's velocity ''is getting better, but it's still not there yet.''
''We've got to play whoever they put back there,'' South Carolina defensive line coach Deke Adams said. ''We know it's different when they change and put No. 11 (Dobbs) back there. He's a different type of quarterback. He's a running quarterback. That changes things a lot, but we're prepared.''
The biggest improvement for Tennessee last week came from an offensive line that has allowed 32 sacks, the second-highest total among all FBS programs. The Vols gave up just two sacks against Alabama despite playing without injured guard Marcus Jackson and tackle Coleman Thomas. Jackson is expected to play Saturday, and the Vols aren't saying exactly which five linemen they'll start against South Carolina.
''We just know that we have to get better and continue to grow,'' Tennessee center Mack Crowder said. ''Our mindset going into that game is we really didn't think anybody thought we could do it but ourselves. We really wanted to go out there and prove a point.''
The offense proved against Alabama it could move the ball against a quality defense.
Now this group wants to show it can lead Tennessee to a victory over an SEC opponent.
''By no means do we approach this week satisfied with anything we accomplished,'' Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. ''There are no moral victories. We lost. We want to build upon maybe some progress that we've made, but we still have a lot of work to do as an offense. We still need to improve in a lot of areas.''
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.