COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs has had his share of close games with South Carolina. He is expecting another one when the 18th-ranked Vols face the Gamecocks on Saturday.
It’s been one of the closest, down-to-the-wire rivalries in the Southeastern Conference in recent years, the past four games being decided by a total of 11 points. Dobbs played in the past two, leading a frantic, fourth-quarter Tennessee comeback from a two-touchdown deficit at Williams-Brice Stadium two years ago to win in overtime, 45-42.
Then last year, the Vols (5-2, 2-2 SEC) survived a late rally from 17-points down by the Gamecocks (3-4, 1-4) and only secured the game on a late fumble recovery by Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
On paper, the dynamic Vols seem to have a huge edge on South Carolina, which is next to last in scoring average in the Football Bowl Subdivision and a two-touchdown underdog at home.
Dobbs isn’t buying it.
“You’ve got to be careful about every single game, especially in the SEC, especially when you’re on the road in the SEC as well,” Dobbs said. “You’re going to have to bring your ‘A’ game if you’re going to go into somebody else’s house and come out with a ‘W.’ We understand that.”
Tennessee also understands it needs to get back on the winning track after two disheartening losses to No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 1 Alabama. A week off settled their nerves and got them back in a good frame of mind to make another late-season run that could possibly lead to the SEC East title.
“It’s always in the back of our minds,” Tennessee safety Todd Kelly Jr. “We always want to be the best team first off that we can be and the best team in our conference. I still think we have the possibility of doing that, but it all starts with winning one game at a time.”
Some other things to watch when No. 18 Tennessee faces South Carolina:
NO KAMARA: Tennessee will be without running back Alvin Kamara , the team’s second leading rusher with 313 yards. Vols coach Butch Jones hadn’t detailed Kamara’s injury, but thought he’d be back soon. The banged-up Vols do return linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., who missed the past five games with a high-ankle sprain.
MORE BENTLEY: South Carolina will continue rolling with freshman Jake Bentley as starting quarterback. The big-armed Bentley threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns — the Gamecocks had just two TD passes its first six games — in a 34-28 win over UMass last week. The Gamecocks also used freshman QB Brandon McIlwain in goal line situations and should do it once again.
MASTER MUSCHAMP: South Carolina coach Will Muschamp has never lost to Tennessee, going 4-0 against the Vols during his four seasons as Florida’s head coach. The Gamecocks, though, have lost three straight to Tennessee. Muschamp discounts that and said it will be the Gamecocks preparation that makes a difference, telling his players, “‘Hey, a play or two here or there and that’s a different ball game and we feel a little different about the situation.'”
BIG-TIME BARNETT: Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett has continued his run through SEC quarterbacks. He’s tied for fifth in SEC sacks and third in tackles for loss. He’s been especially effective against the Gamecocks with 13 tackles, five tackles for loss and four sacks.
OVER THE TOP: Was that “Rocky Top” blaring at South Carolina’s practice? You bet, Muschamp said. The Tennessee fight song that’s played over and over — and over and over — at football games can also be a motivator for the opponent, Muschamp said. “Sometimes you get tired of listening to it, and you don’t want to listen to it on game day,” he said. “So I told our guys, ‘Play good and you won’t have to.'”