Here at the Fearless Prediction, we aren’t afraid to admit when we are mistaken. We picked Missouri to beat Tennessee in a close game. Instead, the Vols destroyed the Tigers 62-24.

To be fair, the Fearless Prediction was not told in advance that Missouri’s defense made the decision to not attempt to tackle Tennessee’s running backs until they had already gained 10 yards. Had we known that to be the case, we might have changed our pick.

But like Mark McGwire testifying in front of Congress, we aren’t here to talk about the past.

This week Tennessee looks for another SEC win when South Carolina comes to Knoxville.

In years past the Gamecocks have been a tricky opponent for the Vols. The 2016 game in particular was the beginning of the end of the Butch Jones era. But the tide has turned in this series after a fairly easy win for UT in 2019 and a tight victory in the opener last year.

The Vols enter this game with tons of momentum after destroying Missouri. Tennessee’s offense was unstoppable, scoring at will and rushing for 458 yards. They haven’t picked up that many yards on the ground in a single game in nearly 70 years. Tiyon Evans, Hendon Hooker, Len’Neth Whitehead … they ran up, over and past the Tigers.

I’m pretty sure the ghost of Hank Lauricella gained a few yards too.

Through 5 games, Tennessee’s offense is ranked 21st in the country, with the 9th-best rushing attack in college football. As a point of comparison, the Vols were 102nd in total offense a year ago and ranked a woeful 84th in rushing.

Heupel was brought to Tennessee to fix the offense, which was stuck in the mud during most of the Jeremy Pruitt regime. If Heupel can keep the the offense clicking in this manner, they’ll be fun to watch and tough to stop in the years that follow.

What about South Carolina’s offense you ask? Well, things aren’t going nearly as well. Things were so desperate at quarterback that they asked grad assistant Zeb Noland to come out of semi-retirement, and he started the first 2 games of the season. Noland was eventually replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore Luke Doty, who is averaging less than 190 yards passing per contest. Doty is billed as a dual-threat, but he has rushed for -3 yards in 3 games. Tennessee’s defensive line could have a field day.

The Gamecocks’ offense is ranked 116th. They don’t score a lot, averaging only 18 points a game in their past 4 outings. They shouldn’t be expected to turn that trend around this weekend.

The Gamecocks are 3-2 thanks to a very good defense. Sixth-year cornerback Jaylan Foster leads the team in tackles with 39 stops and already has 4 interceptions. Linebacker Brad Johnson is a playmaker, with 31 tackles, including a team-leading 3.5 behind the line of scrimmage. Those 2 in particular could be a challenge Saturday.

Like the offense, Tennessee’s defense is better today than it was a year ago. Senior defensive back Theo Jackson has become one of the team leaders on the stat sheet and in the locker room. He’s tops on the Vols with 31 tackles and an impressive 6.5 for loss. Linebacker Jeremy Banks has 5.5 TFLs, including 2 sacks.

The Vols are well aware that the meat of the schedule is on the horizon. After facing South Carolina, they play No. 17 Ole Miss and No. 1 Alabama, then get a much-needed bye week before facing No. 16 Kentucky and No. 2 Georgia. The Vols will be underdogs in at least 3 of those games. They need to beat the teams that they should beat, and hope to pull off an upset or two along the way.

Last week Tennessee showed the nation that there’s a lot of potential for this program. They aren’t going to take a step back against the Gamecocks.

Fearless Prediction time …

Tennessee 41, South Carolina 17