Fearless Prediction: Tennessee vs. South Carolina
The Fearless Prediction bounced back with a W last week, but a trickier game awaits Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
When Tennessee hosts South Carolina, it will be the 2nd matchup between Jeremy Pruitt of Tennessee and Will Muschamp of South Carolina. Both are fiery, defensive minded head coaches. They also have a lot in common in a shared disdain of SEC officials.
Let’s start with Pruitt. He wasn’t very happy with the officiating in Tennessee’s 35-13 loss at Alabama. Some questionable calls hurt the Vols chances of beating the Crimson Tide for the first time since 2006. In particular, a personal foul call on Darrell Taylor in the 3rd quarter kept an Alabama drive alive in what was a 21-13 game. The Tide scored a touchdown 8 plays later.
As for Muschamp, some sketchy calls (and non-calls) cost his Gamecocks the opportunity to win their 2nd consecutive game over a top 10 conference rival. An especially egregious call that clinched a win for Florida caused Muschamp to flip out on officials.
Forget the game … Pruitt and Muschamp might decide to meet at midfield, form a tag team, and fight all the SEC officials in a handicap match Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
Both teams have quarterback questions. Last week, Tennessee true freshman quarterback Brian Maurer was knocked out with another concussion. It was the 3rd straight game in which he started but could not finish due to injury. If he can’t go, you’d think the backup Jarrett Guarantano would get the start … right?
Jarrett Guarantano’s Tennessee career has … interesting. This is his 4th season on Rocky Top. In that time he has had 3 head coaches (including Brady Hoke) and 4 offensive coordinators. Certainly that is not the preferred way to spend your college football days. But JG is what he is, and the time for the proverbial light to switch on is getting shorter by the day. On Saturday against Alabama, he completed 7-of-16 passes for only 55 yards. He was had one of the worst plays in Tennessee history. After that play Pruitt benched Guarantano for sophomore J.T. Shrout, who is the 3rd-stringer for a reason. Heck, wide receiver Jauan Jennings might be the best option at quarterback.
I wish I were kidding.
At South Carolina, the quarterback drama is more traditional in nature. Starting quarterback Ryan Hilinski is battling a knee injury, and hasn’t thrown for 200 yards in his past 4 games. Even though Muschamp said Hilinski was healthy in their loss to Florida, Hilinski doesn’t look like he’s operating at peak physical condition.
Expect both teams to run the football a lot, especially if the weather forecast holds true and we get a sloppy track.
Here’s what the game comes down to for me. Can Tennessee actually beat Will Muschamp? The Vols are 0-7 against him (0-4 vs. his Florida teams and 0-3 vs. his Gamecocks teams.
I can understand how the Vols are 0-13 against Nick Saban at Alabama and 0-6 against Urban Meyer at Florida, but being winless for this long a period against Muschamp defies logic.
This includes a 10-9 defeat to Coach Boom’s Gators in 2014 in Knoxville. This was a game that Tennessee’s coaches completely bungled … which didn’t stop Muschamp from going full nWo afterward.
It also includes the 24-21 loss in 2016 in Columbia. That game took the Vols out of the driver’s seat for the SEC East title, and was the beginning of the end of the Butch Jones era at Tennessee.
A few years ago, during Florida’s 11-game winning streak over Tennessee (2005-2015), I said that I wouldn’t pick the Vols to beat the Gators until they actually beat the Gators. Well, I broke my word, picked the Vols, and got burned … by Muschamp’s final Florida team in 2014. I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t pick the Vols to beat a Muschamp team until they actually beat a Muschamp team.
Throw in all the quarterback upheaval at Tennessee and that makes this an easier call for me.
The past 7 meetings between the Vols and Gamecocks have been decided by a total of 23 points. These games are always close, and Saturday’s affair should be as well.
Fearless Prediction time …
South Carolina 24, Tennessee 20