Fifth-ranked Tennessee can secure a 10-win season for the first time since 2007 and keep its nose in the middle of the national championship chase when it battles South Carolina on Saturday in Southeastern Conference play at Columbia, S.C.
The Volunteers (9-1, 5-1 SEC) are even more fixated on the College Football Playoff race as they sit just outside the four semifinal spots.
Tennessee plans to treat South Carolina (6-4, 3-4) the way it did Missouri in last weekend’s 66-24 trouncing.
The Volunteers set a school record with 724 yards total offense and established a school mark by topping 50 points for the fifth time in a season.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker bolstered his Heisman Trophy resume, passing for 355 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 50 yards and one score. He has passed for 2,888 yards and 24 touchdowns against just two interceptions and also has rushed for 405 yards and five scores.
He is the prime reason why Tennessee leads the nation in scoring offense (47.4 points per game) and total offense (543.7).
“He is in complete command of what we are doing,” Volunteers coach Josh Heupel said of Hooker. “You look at the efficiency of how he is playing, the ability to take care of the football, the dynamic plays that he has made with his arm and with his feet. We don’t look like we do offensively without him.”
Receiver Jalin Hyatt was superb against Missouri with seven receptions for 146 yards and one touchdown. His yardage total sits at 1,116, third most in school history behind Marcus Nash (1,170) and Robert Meachem (1,298 in 2006).
Tennessee’s lone loss of the season came on the road against Georgia 27-13 on Nov. 5 in a raucous atmosphere. Heupel and Hooker are expecting another tough environment.
“Honestly, I feel like everyone on the offensive side of the ball is excited to go into this atmosphere,” Hooker said. “We’ve seen what it was like at Georgia and moving forward, we know what to expect. Anytime going into an environment like this, you want to prepare and do different things to get ready for that environment, so crowd noise at practice is a thing.”
South Carolina gave up 21 unanswered points in the first quarter last weekend while losing 38-6 at Florida.
Gamecocks coach Shame Beamer was disappointed in the performance.
“Obviously, (the Florida game) wasn’t good enough. We need to be better. How are we going to be better this week? That’s any position. That’s any side of the ball. It’s a conversation we had on Sunday. We weren’t good enough on offense. We weren’t good enough stopping the run, on defense. We weren’t good enough protecting the football.”
The Florida game was reminiscent of last season’s game at Tennessee when the Volunteers scored 28 first-quarter points and rolled to a 45-20 victory over the Gamecocks.
Beamer said he hasn’t communicated with the team about last season’s debacle.
“I haven’t at least in front of the team, haven’t talked about the start last year. I think they know,” Beamer said. “… Making sure that they understand we have to be able to handle the tempo better earlier, hopefully, than what we did last season.”
South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler has thrown for 1,982 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Leading rusher MarShawn Lloyd (556 yards, nine touchdowns) is hopeful of returning after missing the past two games with a bruised thigh.
Safety Nick Emmanwori (team-high 66 tackles) and outside linebacker Gilber Edmond (team-best eight tackles for loss) are having solid seasons for a defense allowing 26.2 points and 386 yards per game.
Tennessee has won the past three meetings.
–Field Level Media