Gamecock Notebook: Five Tennessee Players To Note

Brian Smith

It’s finally here. Game week. The depth chart was released by Tennessee. Which players should South Carolina fans know about?

The University of Tennessee football roster is far from void of talent. Quite the contrary. The Volunteers boast talent from top to bottom. According to the last four years of recruiting as ranked by 247 Sports, the Volunteers are closing in on being a top 10 team, at least in terms of talent. For 2020, Tennessee signed its best class in recent years. 

2017: 17th.

2018: 21st.

2019: 13th.

2020: 10th.

For now, South Carolina fans should wonder about the players that will make the biggest impact during Saturday night’s game in Williams-Brice Stadium. Here are five to watch.

5) Eric Gray, RB, Sophomore, 5-10, 205-pounds

The talented prospect out of Memphis (Lausanne Collegiate School) is a game breaker. He burst into the open field and scored touchdowns of 56- and 94-yards versus Vanderbilt last season. 

A quick jump cut, a stiff arm, or a simple shake, and Gray is gone. He possesses the speed to take it to the house if the Gamecocks are not assignment savvy. Gray accounted for 539 yards and four touchdowns last season, averaging an impressive 5.3 yards per tote. 

Because Gray will split carries with yet another talented tailback, Ty Chandler, Gray will be able to rest periodically throughout the game. That’s another reason South Carolina defenders need to keep an eye on Gray. He will bring a rested body onto the field to go along with that speed.

4) Henry To’o To’o, LB, Sophomore, 6-2, 225-pounds

The speedy linebacker from Hawaii can make plays in space, in the box, and definitely in the opponent’s backfield. He’s inexperienced and sometimes finds himself out of position, but To’o To’o should be considered disruptive.

His speed and agility will be an asset to a linebacker group that overall is more like the old school Nick Saban linebacker groups from his days pre-2017 for the ‘Tide. Big, powerful, and built to stop the run. To’o To’o, on the other hand, can be a blur and be a powerful thumper as well. He’s a modern linebacker that’s capable of covering a running back in the flat or coming after the linebacker on a blitz.

While there’s no question that To’o To’o will be a player that South Carolina attempts to exploit due to his limited SEC experience, he can be a player that also makes a game-changing play for the Vols. How the Gamecocks handle To’o To’o could go a long way in determining if the Gamecocks come out victorious.

3) Ramel Keyton, WR, Sophomore, 6-3, 195-pounds

The Marietta, GA native already made his move into the starting lineup after catching just four passes last season. That’s not what’s important. It’s Keyton’s athleticism and size, as it relates to big plays, that’s most important.

He’s capable of making a diving catch over the middle or taking a five-yard hitch and turning it into a 65-yard touchdown. He’s not a true burner, mind you, but Keyton’s ability to break tackles with strength, quickness and fantastic agility for his size make him one of Tennessee’s most unique skill position players.

2) Darnell Wright, RT, Sophomore, 6-6, 330-pounds

Playing on the opposite side of the line from a great combination of upperclassmen linemen (more on them in a moment), Wright will be manning the tackle position that South Carolina will likely come after with a myriad of blitzes and stunt games. 

While Wright possesses the girth and length to be a stalwart one day, that day has not yet come. If Wright comes out and has a monster game for the Vols, it spells bad news for the Gamecocks. Conversely, if he struggles in the run game leading to long yardage situations, he could be the reason that South Carolina’s defense can pin its ears back and get after a traditionally mistake-prone quarterback in Jarrett Guarantano.

1) Trey Smith, OG, Senior, 6-6, 330-pounds

Arguably the best offensive lineman in the land this fall, Smith is a road grader. He’s battled some injuries along the way, but he’s a future NFL football player. Smith will be the player that Tennessee tends to rely on, especially when it’s short yardage. 

A power player that’s also playing alongside sophomore Wanya Morris (6-5, 320-pounds) at left tackle, the Volunteers will definitely look to exert their physical prowess up front. It begins with Smith. He’s truly one of the best players in the SEC. 

How Smith goes so go the Volunteers. He’s not likely to be stopped by any means, but South Carolina cannot allow him to open gaping holes for Gray, Chandler and any other Tennessee ball carriers. Keep an eye on Smith. He’s a great player that South Carolina must contend with.

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