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Gamecocks Head to Rocky Top for SEC East Showdown
Football  . 

Gamecocks Head to Rocky Top for SEC East Showdown

Oct. 13, 2017

YOU ARE LOOKING LIVE: The University of South Carolina Gamecocks (4-2, 2-2 SEC) are back on the road this week as they travel to Knoxville to play the Tennessee Volunteers (3-2, 0-2 SEC) in an SEC Eastern Division match up. Game time is set for high noon from Neyland Stadium (102,455). The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE: Mark Neely and Tommy Tuberville will call the game for ESPN with Paul Carcaterra reporting from the sidelines.

125 YEARS IN THE MAKING: It’s been 125 years since the University of South Carolina laced it up for a December 24, 1892 meeting in Charleston against Furman, a 44-0 setback. 2017 marks the 124th season of intercollegiate football at South Carolina. It is the 111th-consecutive year in which South Carolina has competed on the gridiron. The University did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. Carolina owns an all-time record of 596-571-44, a .510 winning percentage.

SEC, SEC: The Gamecocks are in their 26th year in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina and Arkansas joined the league prior to the 1992 campaign. The Gamecocks earned their lone SEC Eastern Division title in 2010. The Gamecocks are 87-116-1 (.429) all-time in SEC regular-season play, but are 32-28 (.533) in conference action since the start of the 2010 season.

CAROLINA VS. TENNESSEE: This is the 36th gridiron meeting between the Gamecocks and Volunteers in a series that dates back to 1903. The teams have met every year since Carolina joined the SEC for the 1992 season, with the Volunteers winning 18 of the 25 meetings as conference rivals. Tennessee leads the all-time series, 25-8-2, including a 16-2 advantage in Knoxville and a 9-6-2 mark in Columbia. The Gamecocks defeated Tennessee just three times in a 105-year period from 1903-2007, but have won five times in the last nine contests from 2008-2016.

A FIELD GOAL MAY DECIDE IT: Each of the last five contests has been decided by three points or less, with the Vols outscoring Carolina by a 151-149 margin during that five-game stretch.

LET’S KEEP IT TO 60 MINUTES: South Carolina has played five overtime games in its history, logging a 2-3 mark in those contests that needed more than 60 minutes to decide. Tennessee has accounted for all three of the Gamecock overtime losses, all decided by a field goal.

THE LAST TIME THEY MET: South Carolina’s best win of the 2016 campaign was a 24-21 win over No. 18 Tennessee on October 29 in Columbia. The Gamecocks had the advantage in total offense, outgaining the Vols 325-297, but the key to victory was winning the turnover battle, 3-0. JaMarcus King had a pair of interceptions, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week accolades.

THE LAST TIME IN KNOXVILLE: South Carolina rallied from 17 points down and twice tied the Volunteers in the second half, but a fumble with 32 seconds remaining ended a potential scoring drive for the Gamecocks in their final possession in a 27-24 loss in Neyland Stadium on November 7, 2015. Perry Orth completed 20-of-29 passes for 233 yards and Brandon Wilds rushed 20 times for 79 yards.

GOOD OLE ROCKY TOP: Will Muschamp owns a perfect 5-0 record against Tennessee as a head coach, including a 2-0 mark in Knoxville. He was 4-0 as the head coach at Florida, posting wins by scores of 33-23, 37-20, 31-17 and 10-6. He won last year as the head coach at South Carolina by a 24-21 score.

IT JUST MEANS MORE: South Carolina’s redshirt freshman offensive lineman Sadarius Hutcherson hails from Huntingdon, Tenn., which is located about 300 miles straight west of Knoxville. Gamecock assistant coaches Kurt Roper (2006-07), Lance Thompson (2009-11), and Pat Washington (1995-05) all logged stints with the Vols. Gamecocks’ first-year assistant strength & conditioning coach Corey Miller played his college ball at Tennessee from 2010-13. Tennessee assistant coach Robert Gillespie was on Steve Spurrier’s staff at South Carolina from 2005-08.

CALLING THE HOGS: The Gamecocks used three defensive scores in a 31-point second half to roll to a 48-22 win over Arkansas last Saturday in Columbia. Skai Moore, T.J. Brunson and Keisean Nixon each found paydirt after a Razorback turnover, as the Gamecocks forced four turnovers in the contest. The Carolina defense was stout most of the day, as it allowed Arkansas just 153 total yards, including 69 on the ground, through the first three quarters, before the reserves played much of the final stanza. Jake Bentley threw three touchdowns as the Gamecocks finished with a 358-330 advantage in total yards. It marked the Gamecocks’ third-straight win over Arkansas, their longest winning streak in the series.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: The Gamecocks tallied 48 points against Arkansas last Saturday, the most points scored under Will Muschamp and the most by the Gamecocks since scoring 48 at Vanderbilt on September 20, 2014.

ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES A TD: The Gamecocks set a school record with three defensive touchdowns in the win over Arkansas. Skai Moore returned an interception 34 yards, T.J. Brunson returned a fumble 73 yards, then Keisean Nixon returned an interception 45 yards for a score. It was the Gamecocks first game with multiple defensive scores since September 10, 2011 at Georgia, when Antonio Allen had a pick-six and Melvin Ingram scored on a fumble recovery. The three defensive scores was one shy of the NCAA Division I record of four, accomplished four times. The Gamecocks have scored five defensive or special teams touchdowns this season.

WONNUM RECOGNIZED: Sophomore Dennis “D.J.” Wonnum, was selected as the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week. He was credited with four solo tackles, including a tackle for loss, broke up two passes and had a quarterback hurry. He led a Carolina defensive line that limited the Razorbacks to just 106 yards on 32 carries.

MAKESHIFT LINE: The Gamecocks had just two of their five Opening Day offensive linemen make the start against Arkansas. Junior right tackle Zack Bailey has missed the last three contests after suffering an ankle injury against Kentucky. Senior right guard Cory Helms injured his ankle against Louisiana Tech and has not played in the last two contests. Junior tackle Malik Young went out early in the A&M game an ankle injury and missed the Arkansas contest. Redshirt freshman Sadarius Hutcherson has made his first two career starts, while senior D.J. Park made his first start of the season at right tackle against Arkansas. The Gamecocks have used five different offensive line combinations in their first six games, including three starters at right tackle.

MISSING IN ACTION: After having 19 of the 22 starters answer the bell in each of the first three games, the injury bug struck Carolina. In addition to the issues on the offensive line, wide receiver/kick returner Deebo Samuel is out indefinitely with a fractured leg, while starting Buck Bryson Allen-Williams (shoulder) and tight ends K.C. Crosby (fractured leg) and Kyle Markway (ribs) will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery.

BETTER THAN AVERAGE: The Gamecock defense has been better than advertised this season, holding all six opponents to fewer points than their season average, with four of the six being held at least 10 points below their season mark. Tennessee enters this week’s contest averaging 24.2 points per game.

HEY TURN ME OVER: The Gamecocks forced four Arkansas turnovers on Saturday, leading to 24 points. For the season, Carolina is tied for the SEC lead and tied for 11th in the nation with 13 turnovers forced (7 fumbles and 6 interceptions). The Gamecocks are plus-7 in turnover margin, third in the SEC and 13th in the country. Dante Sawyer is tied for the NCAA lead with three forced fumbles.

RAISE THE FLAG: The Gamecocks are one of the least penalized teams in college football. Carolina has been flagged for just 23 penalties this season, an average of 3.8 per game, which ranks first in the SEC and tied for fifth in the country. Carolina’s penalties have totaled 144 yards or just 28.2 yards per contest, the fewest in the nation.

MY QUARTERBACK IS A BENTLEY: Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley is the key to the Gamecock attack. The 6-3, 220-pounder is hitting on 60.6 percent of his passes this season (114-for-188) for 1,456 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He completed a career-best 16-consecutive passes earlier this season against Kentucky, four shy of the school record of 20, set by Connor Shaw. He ranks third in the SEC in both passing yards per game (242.7) and in total offense (241.0), while his 12 TD passes ranks tied for third. Bentley, who is 8-5 in 13 career starts, has thrown for over 300 yards twice in his career. He set the school record for bowl games and Birmingham Bowl records for passes completed (32), yards passing (390) and total offense (381) while throwing three TD passes in the final game of the 2016 season against USF.

MORE ON JAKE: Quarterback Jake Bentley shared MVP honors last season with Deebo Samuel, despite playing in just seven contests. Now with 13 games under his belt, all starts, Bentley has thrown for 2,876 yards. He needs just 124 passing yards to become the 14th player in Carolina history to throw for 3,000 career yards. Chris Smelley is 13th on the list with 3,210.

FAMILY AFFAIR: Quarterback Jake Bentley comes from a football family. His father, Bobby, is the Gamecocks’ running backs coach and previously was a highly-successful coach at Byrnes (S.C.) High and at Presbyterian College. Jake’s step-brother, Chas Dodd (Rutgers), and brother, Shuler Bentley (Old Dominion/Murray State), both have played quarterback in college. Chas is on the Carolina staff as a GA in the weight room.

BORN TO RUN: The Gamecocks have a trio of sophomores who are sharing the load at running back. Rico Dowdle (5-11, 220) is the top returning ground-gainer with 764 yards and six touchdowns scored as a true freshman last fall. Dowdle owns three 100-yard rushing games, including a career-best 226-yard performance against Western Carolina. He became the first true freshman to lead the Gamecocks in rushing since Marcus Lattimore in 2010. In 2017, he has 187 yards on 56 carries while making three starts and has led the team in rushing three times. A.J. Turner (5-10, 184) logged 497 yards and three scores on 116 carries last season. Included was a career-best 113-yard effort against Texas A&M. He has rushed just 20 times for 60 yards this season while making one start. Ty’Son Williams (6-0, 215) became eligible this fall after transferring from North Carolina. Despite not having a carry in two of the first three games, he leads the team with 281 yards on just 49 rushes, a 5.7-yard average, with two starts. He turned in the best performance from a running back so far in 2017 when he carried 13 times for 95 yards, including a 35-yard burst, in the win over Louisiana Tech.

REACHING A MILESTONE: Sophomore running back Rico Dowdle is just 49 yards away from reaching 1,000 rushing yards in his career. He figures to become the 43rd player in school history to reach that plateau.

THE PRODIGAL (TY’)SON: After spending the 2015 season at North Carolina, then sitting out 2016 as a transfer, redshirt sophomore running back Ty’Son Williams, from Sumter, S.C., has led the team in rushing in three games this season. He did not get a carry against NC State in the opener, but came off the bench at Mizzou to lead the team with 14 rushes for 78 yards in the win. Then, after not getting a carry against Kentucky, he made his first collegiate start against Louisiana Tech and responded with 95 yards on 13 carries, a 7.3-yard average, including a 35-yard touchdown burst in the fourth quarter, the longest by a Gamecock this season. He logged 14 carries for 73 yards, including a 34-yard burst, at Texas A&M. After six games, he is the team’s leading rusher with 281 yards on 49 carries, a 5.7-yard average.

MISSING DEEBO: Deebo Samuel did it all for the Gamecocks through the season’s first three games before suffering a broken bone in his leg against Kentucky. In the opener against NC State, he returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a score, and caught five passes for 83 yards including a pair of scores, finishing the day with 185 all-purpose yards. At Missouri, he returned another kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, scored on a 25-yard rush and caught five passes for 45 yards, accumulating 167 all-purpose yards. He hauled in five passes for 122 yards, including a 68-yard scoring strike on the game’s first play from scrimmage against Kentucky, before suffering the injury.

FINDING DEEBO AT THE TOP: Deebo Samuel leads the Gamecocks in scoring (36 points), receptions per game (5.0), receiving yards per game (83.3) and all-purpose yards (158.0).

GOING THE DISTANCE TIMES TWO: Deebo Samuel took a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in each of the season’s first two games. Against NC State, he became the first player in school history to open the season with a kickoff return for a score, earning SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Against Missouri, his 97-yard return changed the momentum of the game after the Tigers had taken a 10-0 lead, and earned him SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for a second-straight week. Samuel has tied the school record for kickoff returns for a touchdown in a season, matching King Dixon (1957) and Boo Williams (1997). Samuel and Dixon are the only players to have kickoff returns for scores in back-to-back games. Samuel owns the school record for career kickoff returns for touchdowns with three, as he also took one to the house from 100-yards out last year against Western Carolina. The Gamecocks have had four kickoff returns for scores in their last 24 games after not having a kickoff return for a TD between 2002 to 2015.

MOVIN’ ON UP: Bryan Edwards played an excellent second fiddle to Deebo Samuel, but has now moved into the first chair in Samuel’s absence. Edwards responded with a six-catch, career-best 122-yard receiving performance against LA Tech in the first game playing without Deebo on the opposite side, and came back with a four-catch, 68-yard performance at Texas A&M. Edwards has caught at least four passes in five of six games this season, totaling 27 catches for 357 yards and one score. He ranks tied for eighth in the SEC in receptions per game (4.5) and is 10th in receiving yards per game (50.5). The 6-3, 215-pounder from Conway, S.C., has 71 career receptions for 947 yards in his first 18 games and needs just 53 yards to become a 1,000-yard receiver for his career. Edwards had the second-best true freshman season for a Gamecock wide receiver in 2016 behind only Alshon Jeffery’s 2009 campaign.

ORTRE FINDS THE END ZONE: True freshman wide receiver OrTre Smith has caught a touchdown pass in three of the last four contests. Three of his nine receptions this season have gone for scores. His first career reception was a 9-yard TD pass late in the game against Kentucky, then he caught a 28-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against LA Tech before hauling in a 13-yard scoring strike at A&M in the third quarter.

HE MAY BE SHI, BUT HE’S NOT AFRAID: Shi Smith has also stepped up in the absence of Deebo Samuel. The true freshman had his best game as a Gamecock at Texas A&M, catching three passes for a team-high 86 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown pass for his first career score. For the season, Shi has hauled in 14 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown.

FROM HURST TO FIRST?: Hayden Hurst has put together back-to-back 76-yard receiving games, catching a career-high six passes at Texas A&M and a career-long 62-yard touchdown reception versus Arkansas, to move up on the all-time Carolina charts for a tight end. He ranks second on Carolina’s all-time list in career receptions by a tight end (75) and ranks third in career yards receiving by a tight end (1,019). He needs just four catches to become the school’s all-time leader in career receptions by a tight end.

DIAMONDS AREN’T FOREVER: Hayden Hurst played professional baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization after being selected in the 17th round of the 2012 draft. Now a 6-5, 253-pound junior, the 24-year-old Hurst turned in the school’s best single-season receiving numbers for a tight end in 2016. His 48 receptions and 616 receiving yards topped the previous marks of 38 catches, set by Doug Hamrick in 1970, and 576 yards, set by Danny Smith in 1987. The former walk-on also served as the Gamecocks’ punt returner against Georgia, becoming the biggest punt returner in Division I football in recent memory. He also was selected a permanent team captain in 2016, becoming the first sophomore in school history to earn that distinction.

TACKLING MACHINE: Sophomore T.J. Brunson is the Gamecocks’ top tackler and ranks sixth in the SEC with 49 stops, or 8.2 tackles per game. Brunson made his first start as a Gamecock memorable. The 6-1, 230-pound linebacker from Columbia, S.C. posted a game- and career-high 16 tackles in the win over NC State. It was the most tackles in a game for a Gamecock since Antonio Allen logged 16 stops against ECU on Sept. 3, 2011, a game that was also played in Charlotte. He also has logged double-digits in tackles against Kentucky with a dozen. Brunson logged just 12 tackles during the entire 2016 season.

SKAI RETURNS: Skai Moore is back after missing the entire 2016 season following surgery to address a herniated disk in his neck. The 6-2, 221-pound linebacker from Cooper City, Fla., was the Gamecocks’ leading tackler in 2015 with 111 stops, tying for third in the SEC with 9.2 tackles per game. He also led the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and with four pass interceptions, tying for fourth in the SEC. Moore became the first Gamecock to reach the century mark in tackles since 2006, while his 111 tackles was the second-highest total recorded by a Carolina player in the last 25 years. He led the team in tackles for a third-consecutive season, becoming the first player to do so since 1992-94. He currently ranks second on the squad and tied for 19th in the SEC with an average of 7.0 tackles per game.

A BAKER’S DOZEN: Skai Moore has a pair of interceptions this season, getting one against Kentucky, then returning another 34 yards for a score in the win over Arkansas. He has logged 13 career picks, which ranks second on the school’s all-time list, one behind Bo Davies’ school record of 14.

JAM ON A ROLL: True freshman Jamyest Williams had his most productive day as a Gamecock in the loss at A&M. The nickel in the Gamecock defense logged a career-best 10 tackles, including nine solo stops and 2.0 tackles for loss. He also was credited with a quarterback hurry.

CHARLESTON REWARDED: Redshirt sophomore Javon Charleston was rewarded with a scholarship just before the start of fall classes. Charleston, a 6-0, 189-pounder from Gurnee, Ill., is a cousin to former Gamecock great Marcus Lattimore. He came to Carolina as a wide receiver but was moved to safety in the spring.

JUST FOR KICKS: The Gamecocks have struggled to replace the school’s all-time leading scorer in placekicker Elliott Fry. The duo of redshirt freshman Alexander Woznick and true freshman Parker White have combined to connect on just 5-of-14 field goal attempts. White, who also handles the kickoffs, is 10-for-10 on PATs and 4-for-11 in the field goal department. His first made field goal was a 31-yard game-winner in the final seconds against Louisiana Tech. Woznick, who was the Opening Day starter, is 10-of-11 on extra point attempts and 1-of-3 on field goals.

ALL THE WHITE STUFF: Redshirt freshman Parker White was 0-for-4 in the field goal department this season, including misses from 34- and 46-yards out earlier in the game, when he stepped on the field with just seconds remaining and the Gamecocks trailing Louisiana Tech 16-14. Undeterred, the walk-on from Mount Pleasant, S.C. calmly booted a game-winning 31-yard field goal for his first career made field goal.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?: Whether Parker White or Alexander Woznick handles the placekicking job, he is working with an entirely new unit, as Ben Asbury is the new deep snapper, replacing four-year starter Drew Williams, and backup quarterback Danny Gordon is the holder, replacing Sean Kelly.

THIS IS CHARLTON YOUR PUNTER: Redshirt sophomore Joseph Charlton, is the Gamecocks’ punter. Charlton has averaged 44.2 yards, sixth in the SEC and 25th in the country, over his 25 punts with nine measuring over 50 yards, including a career-long 73-yarder at Missouri, the longest punt by a Gamecock since Marty Simpson had a 79-yard punt in 1992. He is threatening the school’s single-season punting average record.

BREAKDOWN DEAD AHEAD: The breakdown of the Gamecocks’ 110-man roster features 12 seniors, 21 juniors, 30 sophomores, 16 redshirt freshmen and 31 true freshmen.

FRESH FISH: South Carolina has played eight true freshmen this season. Those newcomers who have seen action for the first time in Division I football are Sherrod Greene, Brad Johnson, OrTre Smith, Shi Smith, Damani Staley, Aaron Sterling, Chad Terrell and Jamyest Williams. Greene, OrTre Smith, Shi Smith and Williams have each made a start.

FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME: Ten Gamecocks have made their first career start this season. Linebacker T.J. Brunson and defensive end D.J. Wonnum each made his first career start in the win over NC State. Brunson responded with a game-high 16 tackles, while Wonnum logged a game-high 3.0 tackles for loss. Wide receiver Shi Smith and defensive back Jamyest Williams became the first true freshmen to get a start this season when they both got the nod at Missouri. Left tackle Dennis Daley made his first start against Kentucky. True freshman wide receiver OrTre Smith, sophomore running back transfer Ty’Son Williams and JUCO defensive tackle transfer Javon Kinlaw, all made their first starts against Louisiana Tech. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Sadarius Hutcherson got the nod at left guard at Texas A&M. True freshman linebacker Sherrod Greene made his first start against Arkansas.

WINNER, WINNER: The Gamecocks face a dozen opponents that combined to win 61.6 percent of its games last season, going 98-61 overall. That ranked as the fourth-highest opponent winning percentage among FBS teams, behind UMass, LSU and East Carolina. The opponents have not disappointed this season, logging a .687 winning percentage (46-21) thus far.

TOTING THE SHEEPSKIN: The Gamecocks have four student-athletes who have earned their undergraduate degree. The quartet includes Ulric Jones (interdisciplinary studies), Skai Moore (interdisciplinary studies), D.J. Park (criminal justice) and Dante Sawyer (interdisciplinary studies).

WORKING OVERTIME: The Gamecocks are 2-3 all-time in games decided in overtime. They won their first overtime game at Missouri, 27-24, in two overtimes on Oct. 26, 2013 in Columbia, Mo., and won in “The Swamp” over Florida by a 23-20 count in 2014. All three overtime losses have come against Tennessee by a field goal: a 23-20 setback on Sept. 27, 2003 in Knoxville, and a 27-24 loss in Knoxville on Oct. 27, 2007 and a 45-42 loss in Columbia on Nov. 1, 2014.

THEY PAY TO SEE THEM PLAY: South Carolina ranked 17th in the nation in home attendance in 2016, with an average home crowd of 76,920, just shy of the 80,250 capacity. Williams-Brice Stadium boasted a sell-out crowd of 82,493 in the 2017 home opener vs. Kentucky. Carolina is averaging 77,910 through three home games, 15th in the nation.

BIG ROAD CROWDS: South Carolina plays in three of the nation’s 10-largest college football stadiums this fall, traveling to Texas A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station (3rd-102,733), Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium in Knoxville (4th-102,455) and Georgia’s Sanford Stadium in Athens (9th-92,746).

UP NEXT: The Gamecocks will enjoy their lone bye week of the season next weekend. They will return to action on Saturday, October 28, when they host the Vanderbilt Commodores at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series with Vandy by a 22-4 count, including a 10-2 mark at home. Carolina has defeated the Commodores in each of the last eight meetings between the two SEC Eastern Division rivals, including a 13-10 victory in the 2016 season opener in Nashville.