Wade Payne, File
October 24, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee won't have the services of running back Alvin Kamara this week as it attempts to begin a third consecutive late-season surge.

Volunteers coach Butch Jones said Monday that an injury would prevent Kamara from playing Saturday at South Carolina (3-4, 1-4 SEC). Jones didn't say what Kamara's injury was but expects the junior to return in the next couple of weeks.

''As of right now, he does not need surgery and we're anticipating him being back here in the next week or two,'' Jones said. ''That's very, very encouraging for us.''

Kamara, one of four team captains, has rushed for 313 yards and three touchdowns on 64 carries this season. Kamara also has 22 receptions for 260 yards and three touchdowns, and he's averaging 10.2 yards per punt return on 18 attempts.

While Kamara won't be available Saturday, the 18th-ranked Vols (5-2, 2-2) also received plenty of good news this week as they seek to end a two-game skid and establish some more late-season momentum. Tennessee ended last season on a six-game winning streak and won four of its final five games in 2014.

Linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. has missed five straight games with a high ankle sprain, but Jones said Monday that he's ''very, very encouraged'' about the possibility of the sophomore returning Saturday. Cornerback Malik Foreman is practicing this week after missing one game. Jones also said ''everyone should be back'' on the offensive line after injuries left Tennessee without four of its five starting linemen Oct. 15 in a 49-10 loss to No. 1 Alabama

Jones also is confident cornerback Cam Sutton, another team captain, will return soon from a fractured ankle that has sidelined him for the last four games. Jones said ''from everything I'm being told, he'll only be out for a couple more weeks.''

Tennessee is returning from a bye week after playing four consecutive ranked opponents, a stretch that included victories over Florida and at Georgia plus losses at Texas A&M and at home against Alabama.

''They're a very talented bunch,'' South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. ''I think they probably had the toughest run that I've seen in this league in a long time in the four they had to play and where they had to play them.''

Tennessee should be favored in all its remaining regular-season games, but Jones takes issue with the notion that his team's schedule is much easier down the stretch.

''If we thought the first seven weeks were a grind, the last five weeks are going to be even more of a grind,'' Jones said.

A look at the records of each of Tennessee's opponents suggests otherwise.

The Vols' first seven opponents own a combined 38-12 mark (36-7 if you don't include their results against Tennessee). Tennessee's remaining five foes are a combined 16-21. Tennessee's only remaining opponent with a winning record is Kentucky (4-3, 3-2).

Jones notes that Tennessee's remaining opponents are all improving, and there is some evidence to support that contention. Kentucky and Vanderbilt have each won two straight. Kentucky beat Mississippi State on Saturday, one week after Vanderbilt won at Georgia .

First the Vols must take care of South Carolina. Although Tennessee is favored by 13 points, the Vols have reason to feel wary.

Tennessee was a 17-point favorite against South Carolina last year but eked out a 27-24 victory only after recovering a fumble at its own 13-yard line in the final minute. The last four games in this series have been decided by a total of 11 points.

''Honestly, in the SEC you expect every game to really come down to the wire,'' Tennessee receiver Josh Malone said. ''That's just the nature of the SEC.''

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