Football Preview: Playoff Push Continues as #5 Vols Head to Palmetto State to Take On Gamecocks

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Holding steady at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings, Tennessee will look to continue its winning ways this Saturday in an SEC east clash against South Carolina at a sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

A win would lock up the first 10-win season for the Volunteers since 2007 and the program’s first season with 10 regular-season victories since 2003.


Saturday’s primetime matchup will be televised on ESPN as Chris Fowler (PxP), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst) and Holly Rowe (sideline) will have the call. Kickoff is slated for 7:08 p.m. ET.

Fans can listen to Tennessee’s official radio broadcast on the Vol Network (Local: WIVK-FM 107.7/WNML-FM 99.1) over 64 stations across the state of Tennessee and the southeast, SiriusXM (Ch. 113 or 192) and the SiriusXM app (Ch. 963), as well as the Varsity App. A live audio stream of the broadcast will also be available on​ and the Tennessee Athletics App.

Bob Kesling (PxP), Pat Ryan (analyst) and Brent Hubbs (analyst) will call the action, with VFL Jayson Swain handling sideline duties for the Vol Network radio broadcast. The Big Orange Countdown pregame show begins at 5 p.m. ET.


For any Tennessee fans making the trip to Columbia, the most up-to-date information on South Carolina’s gameday policies can be found at the South Carolina football gameday information page.


Push for the Playoff
Tennessee enters Saturday’s game right in the middle of the College Football Playoff hunt, coming in at No. 5 for the second week in a row following a 66-24 thrashing of Missouri last week that saw the Big Orange set school records for points against an SEC opponent and total yards (724).
The Vols are seeking their first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff and first trip  to a New Year’s Six bowl game since defeating Texas A&M 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl following the 2004 season.
Keepin’ It 100
Rocky Top has become a go-to destination for wide receivers since head coach Josh Heupel arrived. Over the past two seasons, UT ranks third nationally with 18 individual 100-yard receiving performances. The Vols have had 10 individual 100-plus yard receiving games this season, which is tied for second nationally behind Ohio State’s 11. Four different Tennessee pass catchers have eclipsed the 100-yard mark at least once this year (Jalin Hyatt – 5, Bru McCoy – 3, Cedric Tillman – 1, Squirrel White – 1).

Hooker to Hyatt
There hasn’t been a more deadly and explosive combination in college football this season than quarterback Hendon Hooker and Hyatt. Both are having historic seasons for the Orange and White and have been racking up the honors along the way.
The tandem has been named to the semifinalist lists for the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards. Hooker is also a finalist for the Unitas Golden Arm Award and a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award while Hyatt is in the running to win the Biletnikoff Award, awarded to the nation’s top receiver.
With Hooker as the trigger man for the nation’s No. 1 offense, Hyatt has emerged as his go-to target, leading the nation in receiving touchdowns (15). The junior from Irmo, South Carolina also ranks first in the FBS in 30-plus yard receiving plays (14), 40-plus yard receiving plays (10), 50-plus yard plays (6) and 60-plus yard receiving plays (4).
Defense Doing Its Part
While Tennessee’s offense gets much of the attention, the Big Orange defense has been doing its fair share of the heavy lifting as well. In its second season under defensive coordinator Tim Banks, the Vols rank in the top 25 nationally in four different categories: rushing defense (11th – 104.1), redzone defense (20th – 76.3), turnovers gained (16th – 19) and third-down defense (25th – 32.9). UT also ranks third in the SEC with 64.0 tackles for loss and has held each of its last three opponents to seven or fewer second-half points, including shutting out Kentucky over the final two quarters in a 44-6 win on Oct. 29.
UT has been aggressive and opportunistic all year long, leading the SEC in turnovers forced (19) and turnover margin (+9). For comparison, the Vols had just 13 takeaways in 13 games last season.


Tennessee leads, 28-10-2
The Volunteers and Gamecocks will meet for the 41st time when the two teams take the field on Saturday night. Tennessee has owned the all-time series and even has a winning record when playing in Columbia (10-7-2).

A win this weekend would mark UT’s fourth straight in the series after dropping three in a row from 2016-18. Each of the last six meetings between the two programs in Columbia have come down to the wire, with all six of those contests being decided by six points or less.


South Carolina is led by second-year head coach Shame Beamer, son of legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. After leading the Gamecocks to a 7-6 record and a victory over North Carolina in the Duke’s May Bowl in year one, Beamer has USC bowl eligible again in 2022.

Redshirt junior quarterback Spencer Rattler leads the offense in his first year with the program after transferring from Oklahoma in the offseason. Rattler has completed 180 of 276 pass attempts for 1,982 yards and eight touchdowns but has also thrown nine interceptions.

Junior wideout Antwane Wells Jr. has been the Gamecocks top threat in the passing game with a team high 43 receptions for 590 yards and four touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore running back MarShawn Lloyd is the team’s top rusher with 100 carries for 556 yards and nine touchdowns. Junior tight end Jaheim Bell is also an extremely versatile weapon for South Carolina who has totaled 18 receptions for 190 yards as well as 47 rushing attempts for 150 yards and a pair of scores.

On the defensive side of the ball, freshman defensive back Nick Emmanwori leads the team with 66 total tackles (51 solo) from the strong safety position. Redshirt sophomore edge rusher Gilber Edmond ranks first with eight tackles for loss while fellow edge rusher Jordan Burch is tops on the team with 3.5 sacks. Cornerbacks Marcellas Dial and Darius Rush each have recorded two interceptions to lead the secondary.

-UT Athletics

Vols WR Bru McCoy / Credit: UT Athletics


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