The Tennessee bench erupts as Evan Berry (29) runs during a long kickoff return. The top-ranked University of Alabama Crimson Tide visited the University of Tennessee Volunteers in SEC football action on October 15, 2016

NO. 18 TENNESSEE (5-2, 2-2 SEC) AT SOUTH CAROLINA (3-4, 1-4)

7:15 p.m. * Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C. * ESPN2/106.5 FM

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Jack Jones (66) blocks the Gators. The Florida Gators visited the Tennessee Volunteers in a important SEC football contest at Neyland Stadium on September 24, 2016.


Tennessee had two weeks to think about rushing for an embarrassing 32 yards against Alabama. After finishing No. 2 in the SEC in rushing in 2015, the Vols enter this game 10th and are averaging 54 yards less per game.

South Carolina's run defense presents an opportunity for Tennessee to get back on track. In five SEC games the Gamecocks allowed 243 yards per game. The Vols won't have Alvin Kamara, but can the offensive line, which should be close to full strength, get the job done?

"Any time you get guys back from injury it's always a good sign," quarterback Josh Dobbs said. "We expect those guys to play at a high level. Any person who's name is called, when they come in the game we expect them to play at a high level. We definitely hold each guy to a high standard.

"Each guy, they realize when their name is called they have to come in and make the most of that opportunity in order to help us be victorious."

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South Carolina quarterback Brandon McIlwain (11) runs for a touchdown against East Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)


After failing to reach the 21-point mark in its first six games, South Carolina used its open date to make a change at quarterback and started freshman Jake Bentley last week against Massachusetts.

The No. 10 pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class according to 247sports, Bentley threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-26 passing in leading the Gamecocks to season highs in points (34) and yards (395).

Tennessee expects to see fellow freshman Brandon McIlwain, too, after allowing Texas A&M's Trevor Knight and Alabama's Jalen Hurts to rush for 242 yards and six touchdowns in its past two games.

"We try to get after every quarterback we can," defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said, "but two freshmen, one of them is a pocket quarterback. He has a pretty good arm on him. The other guy, he has a good arm, too, but he likes to run the ball.

"We've just got to make sure we're in film studying and knowing their tendencies and knowing what they're capable of."

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Tennessee defenders gang-tackle Alabama tailback Bo Scarbrough during Saturday's game at Neyland Stadium. The Crimson Tide rushed for 438 yards in their 49-10 win.


Even with the absence of Kamara and depth concerns at defensive tackle, Tennessee still clearly has more talent than South Carolina across the board at just about every position and is coming off an open date.

Yet it's hard to trust the Vols to go out and put a complete game together because they have yet to do it this season, plus they're playing on the road at night against an upset-minded team whose freshman quarterback generated some momentum last week. The last four games in this series were decided by only 11 total points. Tennessee pulled off a pretty big upset in 2013, and South Carolina nearly pulled one last season.

The return of linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. should give Tennessee's defense a needed boost, and provided the Vols avoid turnovers and mistakes on offense they should take care of business without much drama.