Tennessee, South Carolina preparing to go down to wire again
The last three games between these teams have been decided by a total of eight points. South Carolina won 38-35 in 2012 when Jadeveon Clowney sacked delivered a sack and forced a fumble with Tennessee in the red zone in the final minute. Tennessee won in overtime last season and on a field goal as time expired in 2013.
All those dramatic finishes mean nobody's taking anything for granted this week even with Tennessee (4-4, 2-3 SEC) entering Saturday's game as a 17-point favorite.
''The last two years, the games have come down to the final play of the game,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ''This is going to be another 60-minute, if it's multiple overtimes, whatever it takes to get the job done.''
Tennessee's last couple of games with South Carolina have produced two of the biggest wins of Jones' three-year tenure with the Volunteers.
The Vols' 23-21 victory over No. 11 South Carolina in 2013 marks one of only two wins Tennessee has over a ranked team since Jones' arrival. That South Carolina team didn't lose again and was ranked fourth at the end of the season.
Last year, Tennessee rallied for a 45-42 overtime victory after erasing a two-touchdown deficit in the final two minutes of regulation time.
''Those were definitely building blocks for our program,'' Tennessee safety Brian Randolph said. ''They're high-quality wins that gave us a lot of confidence. We showed we could beat good SEC teams. I know they're going to be looking forward to coming back and proving themselves.''
South Carolina (3-5, 1-5) has changed quite a bit since those two meetings.
Steve Spurrier stepped down as South Carolina's coach last month and was replaced on an interim basis by Shawn Elliott, who had been working as offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator. South Carolina has beaten Vanderbilt 19-10 and has lost 35-28 at Texas A&M in two games under Elliott.
Jones says he believes Elliott has given South Carolina an energy boost since taking over.
''We have our work cut out for us,'' Elliott said. ''We have to continue to improve as a football team like we have in the past few weeks. `'
Here are some things to watch Saturday when Tennessee hosts South Carolina.
DOBBS' ENCORE: Last year's Tennessee-South Carolina game was a showcase performance for Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who had 310 yards passing and 1666 yards rushing that night. Dobbs enters Saturday's rematch on a bit of a roll, as he had two touchdown runs and a pair of touchdown passes last week in a 52-21 blowout of Kentucky.
SUPER COOPER: South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper had 11 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee last year to set the Gamecocks' single-game record for yards receiving. Tennessee knows it must do a better job of holding Cooper in check this time. ''He's a headache,'' Randolph said. ''Very fast, very strong, jumps for the ball, makes plays on the ball in the air.''
VOLS' KICK RETURNERS: Tennessee has scored on three kickoff returns and two punt returns this season and had two more punt return touchdowns nullified by penalty. Evan Berry leads all FBS players with his average of 42.6 yards per kickoff return.
GAMECOCKS' QB SITUATION: Perry Orth is the Gamecocks' starting quarterback, but the versatility of Lorenzo Nunez offers them some options. Nunez, who made two starts earlier this year, sat out two games due to injury but entered the Texas A&M game for one play last week and produced a 7-yard touchdown run. ''He is one of those players you can line up anywhere and have an instant chance to make a big play with,'' Elliott said.
WHO'S MISSING: Tennessee offensive tackle Brett Kendrick will miss a fourth straight game Saturday due to elbow and knee injuries. Tennessee cornerback Emmanuel Moseley will miss the first half after receiving a targeting penalty in the second half of last week's game with Kentucky. The status of Tennessee offensive guard Jashon Robertson (ankle) and wide receiver Preston Williams (hamstring) remains uncertain.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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