Tennessee Week Football Media Availability
Gamecocks Host Volunteers on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“We play Tennessee at 7:30 (Saturday) here at Williams-Brice Stadium. It’s the first home night game of the season. I know we’re excited about that. I know our fan base is excited. I know our players are really excited to be in front of our fans again.
“(Tennessee head coach) Jeremy Pruitt has done a really good job. I think you look at game one to where they are now, the improvement that Tennessee has made (is a lot). They had a huge win two weeks ago down at Auburn, at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and I know how difficult it is to play there. They did a really nice job in that ball game of competing and making the plays they needed to do to win the football game, so they’ve improved tremendously.
“Jarrett Guarantano is the quarterback. Over 60 percent of his passes he’s completing. What really strikes you when you watch the tape is the deep balls. (He’s) very accurate with the deep balls. He’s got a good corps of receivers that does a really good job down the field finishing on plays down the field. Keller Chryst came in in the last game, a transfer from Stanford, and did a fantastic job against Alabama. (He) was very efficient. They’re very similar skill-set guys. I don’t see a lot of difference in what they do or what they call from the standpoint of what they call (depending) on who’s in the ball game. We’ll be prepared for both guys.
“They’ve got a really good stable of backs. (Ty) Chandler and (Tim) Jordan, led by those guys, but they do a good job of rotating those guys in there, leaking them out of the backfield, throwing the football to them. Their receiving corps is big and physical. (Marquez) Callaway is a guy we’ve competed against and a guy we’ve got a lot of respect for. He’s also their punt returner but is a bigger body down the field. (Jauan) Jennings is a 6-3, 215-pound guy. He covers kicks and does a lot of things for them but is a very physical player, a physical presence on the field. Josh Palmer, Tyler Byrd and Jordan Murphy are all guys that run extremely well, so they’re talented at the skill positions. Dominick Wood-Anderson is a tight end that we recruited (and) know very well that’s a really good athlete.
“Defensively, Jeremy is running that side of the ball and doing a really good job. It starts with their three seniors up front. Those guys have done a nice job for them – (Kyle) Phillips, (Shy) Tuttle and (Alexis) Johnson are really holding the point. When they shift from three- to four-down, they’ve got some really loose edge guys, with (Deandre) Johnson and Darrell Taylor, who is having a really good year for them. I think he had three sacks against Georgia. So they’re really talented on the edges, and then the two linebackers, (Daniel) Bituli and (Darrin) Kirkland both have played a lot of football for them. Their secondary is led by Nigel Warrior, who is a guy we recruited as well. (They are) young but very talented in the secondary, but a really good, well-coached special teams unit. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
On the team’s injury situation
“On the injury front, D.J. Wonnum practiced today, and he’s ready to go for Saturday. It’s great to have him back. A.J. Turner will be cleared for Saturday. Nick Harvey and J.T. Ibe will both be out on Saturday.”
On the team’s bye week
“I thought we had a good off week. We came in on Tuesday and worked, then had really good work days Wednesday and Thursday. The players were off Friday and Saturday and then came back Sunday and had a Tuesday-like preparation for Tennessee. Yesterday was off, then I thought we had another really good day today, and we need to finish the week strong getting ready for Tennessee.”
On the way D.J. Wonnum’s return will affect Bryson Allen-Williams’ role
“No, he will still be on the edge. I think it has varied, game-to-game, but having both their presence on the edges really helps us. Bryson has been really active and had a really good year to this point.”
On what was missing defensively with D.J. Wonnum out of the lineup
“Obviously, he is a very productive player in his two years here at South Carolina. You see a lot of people offensively attack our edges defensively in my opinion. In the run game, he adds another dimension to us as far as a pass rusher is concerned. But I would say more than anything, from a leadership standpoint or presence standpoint, (he is) a guy that has a lot of respect in the locker room. He is one of three players in school history that has been voted a team captain in his true sophomore year. That says a lot about the respect D.J. has in the locker room and the type of young man he is. When he is on the practice field, the way he practices, the way he goes about his business, he helps our team improve and get better.”
On the ways the Gamecocks are working to cut down on dropped passes
“I don’t think you can get really technical; bottom line is we need to secure to the tuck as far as catching the football is concerned. Obviously, at times, we are trying to catch the football and look ahead down the field, and you’ve got to secure the catch first. Secure to the tuck. Guys are on the jug machine a little bit more, but again, those guys are talented guys that have caught a lot of footballs for us. It’s obviously something that no one needs to tell them we need to improve in that area. They understand that and they are excited about the next opportunity to play in Williams-Brice.”
On the possibility of playing a 12th game on December 1
“I’m very confident we will be playing here on December 1. I don’t know against who; that’s for Coach Tanner. I’ll let him handle that.”
On the improvement of the SEC Eastern Division this season
“I don’t know how to quantify that. (The) number one (reason) is many of their quarterbacks are returning. I think all of us have had quarterbacks return except Kentucky in the East. I think that is kind of a mark of where someone can be to be offensively, to be able to go on the road and play well. That to me is a common factor we need to have. You look at Kentucky; they have 14 senior starters on their football team. They are playing at a high level. Georgia is a talented football team. Kyle Shurmur has done a fantastic job at Vanderbilt and (in) his time there, they have played well at times. They took Kentucky down to the wire and had an opportunity to win the game in Lexington. Drew Lock is as good of a quarterback (as there is), and I think you will see that in April, come the NFL Draft. His arm talent, the skill (Missouri has) outside, and (they have) probably as good inside techniques that we have played this year in Terry Beckner. As far as their interior defensive line, as far as moving those guys, we had as hard a time against those guys as we had against anyone that we have played. I think it certainly is a very good division. To say improved, I don’t know how to quantify that, but it is a very strong division.
On the team’s expectations and if they are focused on outside criticism
“Our players have tremendously high expectations. We do as staff. We do as a program, and we know where we are headed. At the end of the day, we aren’t where we want to be, but that’s part of the championship culture, is criticism.”
On the improvements in Jake Bentley’s health since the Texas A&M game
“I wouldn’t say he was 100 percent in our last ball game. I would say he was a pretty high percentage. We wouldn’t have put him out there if he couldn’t protect himself. But I’ve certainly seen him more mobile in the off week, and today and Sunday night, as opposed to before.”
On the progress of freshman defensive lineman Josh Belk
“He’s doing a really good job. Josh is in a really good place with me right now, he and I. We need to get him healthy. We need to get him in shape. That’s the most important thing, and that is what we are working through right now. I’ve been really proud of how he has handled things.”
On the environment he expects Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium
“It’s always been closely contested games in our first two seasons. There is no doubt that there will be a great environment here in Williams-Brice on Saturday night.”
On the young players that made strides during the bye week
“We had a really good focus from our young group on Tuesday, like we do on Sunday nights during the season, which I always think is beneficial. It’s a developmental game, to continue the development of those guys. I’ve seen a guy, Dylan Wonnum, that has continued to improve at the right tackle position. He did a really nice job in his opportunity to play well in our last ball game. I think (Kingsley Enagbare) and (Rick Sandidge) both continue to make strides up front. Again, it’s all about turns and reps. As many as they can get, the more (they are) improved; they are doing it the right way. That’s a part of being a good player, is doing it the right way, and I think they have bought into that and understand that. Rosendo Louis, Ernest Jones and Damani Staley at the linebacker position, I’ve seen some strides there. RJ Rodrick continues to do some nice things at the safety position. Josh Vann is a young receiver that is getting more and more opportunities to do some good things for us. Jordan Rhodes is offensive guard that continues to improve. Again, just off the top of my head, those are guys that, as we evaluate the film every day from practice, they are making positive strides in the right direction.”
On the improvements he wants to see from Jake Bentley in the second half of the season
“I think just playing within what he’s asked to do. When you’re a competitor, play in the moment, and do what we’re asking you to do from a read standpoint and taking the ball to the right spots. Obviously ball security would be number one. You’ve got to take care of the football. We’ve had three interceptions in the end zone. That’s something we can’t afford to have happen. You look at the point swing that we’ve had, turnovers in our red zone, or in the opponent’s red zone, is about a 52-point swing on our football team this year. That’s very difficult to overcome. So taking care of the football is number one and just playing within what we’re trying to do. Again, the guy is a competitor. He competes his butt off, and that’s why he’s got the respect of this team and this staff.”
On the performance of linebackers T.J. Brunson and Sherrod Greene in the Texas A&M game
“I thought that was their best game. (They were) very productive, very active, tackled well, leveraged the ball well, didn’t misfit some runs. I think they had a great week of practice. I told both of them on Friday as we were going through the walkthrough, ‘both of you guys had your best week of preparation in my opinion this year,’ and both carried it over to game day. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to happen.”
On addressing the team’s slow starts
“We talk about getting out of the gate quickly if we can. I thought we played extremely well in Nashville starting the game. I think on sides of the ball we’ve played well in parts but not overall. That’s something we continue to talk about within the organization in what we need to do to get out of the gates quicker. We talk about the coin toss more than you could even imagine, as far as what is our best matchup and who could we put out there. There’s a lot that goes into that. Now, when we lose the toss, I can’t control that. Some of our fans don’t understand that. (laughs) That’s something that is discussed at length, and it’s always important to get out, especially when you’re 3-3, to a good start.”
On potential play-calling changes to emphasize the run game more
“I think the RPOs have been very productive for us. I think it’s a little misleading sometimes for Bryan (McClendon), when you get into a game and you’re calling a run, and obviously it’s tagged with an RPO, and they give you a loaded box or they flow the linebacker, or safety spins down to give you a bad number in the box, you’re throwing the RPO, because the numbers tell you to do that. I think it gets in your mind as the game flow is going along that you’ve called the run, in your mind you’ve called the run, but we’re throwing an RPO. Those are things we talked about in the off week, playing a run to a run. We’re going to run it. Let’s run the ball, but we’re not going to get away from the RPOs, because they’ve been very productive. It creates one-on-ones for some of our best players.”
On the emerging status of freshman tackle Dylan Wonnum and if he can crack the starting lineup this season
“He’s a guy that certainly, based on how he practices, can develop into that role.”