Three Defensive Players to Watch for Tennessee Against South Carolina
After an offseason unlike any before, the Tennessee Volunteers are set to play football on Saturday night in Columbia, South Carolina. The Vols will kickoff their SEC-Only schedule against the Gamecocks, and will be looking to best Will Muschamp's squad for the second season in a row. There will be new faces and new roles for both teams, but there are a few key players to watch. If the Vols come away from Carolina 1-0, it will likely have come behind strong efforts from these players on defense.
The secondary is one of the deepest, most experienced, and most talented units on the Volunteer roster. Jeremy Pruitt and Derrick Ansley have made a serious mark on this group both in the way they have recruited and how they have developed talent in this group. Of all the players on the Tennessee defense, Thompson might be the very best. He is as good a cover corner as there is in the SEC. He takes away half the field from opponents when he is at corner and has the ball skills to make any mistakes thrown his way into turnovers. South Carolina has a new quarterback in a brand-new offense, and Thompson is one of the most dangerous ball hawks he will face all year. It is also worth mentioning that Thompson is incredibly dangerous when the ball is in his hands, and the South Carolina native will be looking to have a big game playing so close to home.
Tennessee's sensational sophomore linebacker will be stepping into a new role in his second campaign for the Big Orange. While To'oto’o will still be manning the middle of the Volunteer defense, he will be replacing the departed Daniel Bituli as the man making the defensive calls and lining everyone else up. To'oto’o is an extremely bright player, so this is a challenge that is certainly within his ability to master, but it will remain a question until he shows in a game that he can do it. Both teams have been short on practice, and the potential for misalignments and busts will be high. If To'oto’o can keep his teammates correctly matched against Mike Bobo's new offense at South Carolina, the Vols have a chance to stifle Carolina. Besides his new responsibilities, the Vols will be looking for more of the same from To'oto’o, who earned Freshman All-American honors last season. He will be a key to Tennessee's success on defense all season long, and that starts against the Gamecocks
Emerson may not have gotten a ton of headlines or publicity, but as a redshirt freshman he turned in some massive performances for the Vols. There were times last season when Emerson looked almost unblockable, and he was easily the most disruptive player on the Tennessee defensive line for stretches of 2019. Emerson showed up against quality opponents last season, and he has the versatility, strength, and speed to play multiple spots in Tennessee's defense. The Vols are replacing their top pass rusher from the last two seasons in Darrell Taylor, now of the Seattle Seahawks. That means that the Tennessee defense is going to have to find other ways to get pressure on the quarterback, and Emerson is a likely solution for Jeremy Pruitt. Emerson can come from outside, but he is extremely disruptive in the interior of the offensive line, and pressure up the middle into the face of a quarterback is something that all signal callers hate. Emerson is also a disruptive force against the run, and if he can take the next step in his progression, he can be a star for Tennessee. The Vols need him to show that he has taken that step on a big stage Saturday night.