In preparation for the South Carolina game this weekend we exchanged a few questions with our Bloguin network partner, Leftover Hot Dog. Those guys do a great job of covering the Gamecocks and do some really cool stuff over on their site. Be sure to check them out when you get a chance.
Now on to the discussion.
Here are my questions with LOHD's answers in italics:
1. I think a common misconception for many of South Carolina's remaining opponents is that without Marcus Lattimorein the lineup the Gamecocks are somehow really vulnerable now. For our readers who may not know the Carolina depth chart all that well, tell us about the replacement at starting running back, Brandon Wilds.
To be honest it is a drop-off for the Gamecocks from going from Lattimoreto Wilds but the real key to success on the ground for the Gamecocks lies with the offensive line. However to the question, Wilds has the potential to be a very good back as he is similar to Lattimore’s running style yet he has a little bit more speed. He does not have the ability to grind for the extra yard or two like Lattimore but he has good speed and good hands. Brandon Wilds (6’1” 225lbs) has had 13 carries for 75 yards and 3 catches for 21 yards. As you can see, he is a little unknown for us as Gamecock fans so let’s see how he does but again the key lies in the play of the USC offensive line in the UT game.
2. LSU and Alabama are getting a ton of well-deserved attention for their fabulous defenses, but it could be argued that the best defensive player in the SEC plays for South Carolina. Just how good is Melvin Ingram?
Ingram is the complete package and what sets him apart is his football IQ and relentless pursuit. He has a high motor and is one of the strongest players on the team, not to mention the most athletic. He may be a little undersized for the NFL but his desire is what makes him so good.
3. The Vols are starting a South Carolina native at QB in Rock Hill product and true freshman Justin Worley. How much does the average Gamecock fan know about Worley? With him being the Gatorade National Player of the Year, I assume he was a well-known commodity in the Palmetto State. Maybe you can help us Vol fans out because we honestly don't know what to expect from him.
This kid absolutely lit it up back in the high school days, shattering several South Carolina state records and was the recipient of the Gatorade award as you noted. As a senior, he threw for 5,315 yards and a state-record 64 touchdowns. Worleyfinished his high school career with 13,385 passing yards and 157 total touchdowns. I am still scratching my head on how Coach Spurrier overlooked him and thought he did not fit into the system. I feel UT has potentially a very good QB in due time. Not sure he will be a miracle worker in his first few games but all in due time, I feel that he can do some really good things in Knoxville.
4. With South Carolina currently sitting atop the standings in the East, every conference game is critical. How important is this game for the Gamecocks and what will be their keys to the game?
All USC has to do to win the SEC East is win. They control their destiny. There are three keys in my mind for USC to win this game:
First, they must limit UT on third down as Tennessee has converted on 46 of its 95 third-down opportunities (48.4 percent), which is second in the SEC.
Second, USC’s pass defense has to come ready to play. Tennessee ranks second in passing offense (261.0), eighth in total offense (350.4), 12th in rushing offense (89.4), and seventh in scoring offense (25.1). Just reading over that tells you that the Gamecocks defense is a key to this game.
Lastly, Connor Shaw is the key on offense for USC. He cannot make mistakes and must succeed in the short passing game to keep the chains moving.
5. What would Tennessee need to do to beat the favored Gamecocks this weekend? As a SC fan, what worries you most about this match-up?
For UT to win they must force mistakes and capitalize off them. Force Connor Shaw to make bad throws in traffic or get after some fumbles. UT has to get USC to play poorly as they don’t have Marcus Lattimore to be the work horse.
What worries me the most about this game is USC’s offensive line. They have to play big in this game in creating running lanes and protecting the quarterback. If they play poorly it will reflect in the score.
Here are LOHD'squestions with my answers in italics:
1. Is starting Justin Worley over Matt Sims the right move versus South Carolina and its highly ranked pass defense?
Yes, I think starting Worley now is the right move. That isn’t a reflection of what I think about SouthCarolina’s defense. I think the Vols would have struggled with the Gamecocks D even if Tyler Bray were still available. I think it’s a good move because we know what we have in Matt Simms. He is a tough guy and a solid leader and gives great effort, however he makes too many mistakes and doesn’t possess the accuracy needed to win SEC games.
Because we know the Vols will struggle against top opponents with Simms in the game I think Dooley made the right move in bringing Worley off the bench. It will be interesting to see what he does over the next few games. In my mind, the worst case scenario is that he is no better than Simms and Tennessee is no worse off for having started him. The best case scenario is he proves to be competitive against the best teams left on Tennessee’s schedule (South Carolina and Arkansas) and the Vols win the other remaining games (MTSU, Kentucky, Vanderbilt) and go to a bowl game at no worse than 6-6. I would love for him to play great and force Tennessee into a bit of a quarterback controversy heading into 2012. Only time will tell.
2. Tough for Derek Dooley coming in after Lane Kiffin and Phil Fulmer. What are the thoughts on Derek Dooley as the head man in Rocky Top and what does he have to do to get the program back where it once was?
I think the majority of the fanbasefeels that Dooley is the right man for the job and that he is doing what is needed to get the Tennessee program back. The problem with all the changes at the top is that there will always be a natural amount of attrition when a coach leaves. When two coaches leave in a span of two years there is an abnormal amount. That is what Derek Dooley is facing now.
To give some perspective on the unique challenges that Dooley faces consider this: according to the roster on South Carolina’s official athletic site (Gamecocksonline.com), SC has 42 players who are listed as Juniors or Seniors. Meaning that in theory, they have 42 guys who have been in the program for at least three years (I realize there may be a transfer or two in there but you get my point). According to Tennessee’s official athletic website (UTSports.com), the Vols have 32 players listed as Juniors or Seniors. That’s 10 less players who are helping lead your team in practice, in the weight room, and obviously on game days. It has been that way with every SEC opponent Tennessee faces. Dooley has brought in a lot of good young talent, they just have very little experience and not very many really good upper classmen to face every day in practice.
I think Dooley is the right man for the job. I don’t think we will really see the fruits of his labor until 2012 and beyond.
3. What are the thoughts of Vols nation on what occurred with former Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia?
You will find a mixed bag of reactions from different Tennessee fans, but I’ll tell you I personally felt sad for Garcia when the news broke that he was kicked off the team. If a guy who has that much talent and opportunity can’t get his act together to the point that he can stay on a football team then he clearly has real issues. I honestly hope Garcia finds help and goes on to have a successful life in whatever career he chooses. I was a Stephen Garcia fan. I loved the way he played and the effort and passion he displayed on the field. My prayers are with Garcia and his family. Addiction is a real problem in our country and I hope he can find a way to get well.
4. The UT-South Carolina series has the second narrowest average margin of victory among all SEC matchupssince 2000 (min. 10 games) at 9.0 points (UGA-SC leads with an 8.25 avg. margin). Why is UT and USC so close on average?
Interesting numbers. I would say that prior to the year 2000 these two programs were in very different places. Tennessee was the traditional power and South Carolina was inconsistent at best. Since 2000, however, the Volunteers have been on a decline while the Gamecocks have been on the rise under Lou Holtz and then Steve Spurrier. The decrease in that gap probably has a lot to do with why the games have been so close in that time span. I hope we have another close one Saturday night.
5. The Gamecocks are favored by 3.5. What does UT have to do to beat USC?
In my mind there are two key initiatives that Tennessee must execute if they hope to upset the Gamecocks.
First, they have to establish the run. While the Vols running game has been really bad this season it has shown improvement the last two weeks against Alabama and LSU. If Tennessee can run the ball somewhat effectively then that will take a tremendous amount of pressure off of a freshman quarterback who is making his first start against his home state school. Tennessee has made some changes to the offensive line in recent weeks. We’ll see if they have found the right formula to get things going on the ground.
Second, the Vols have to win the turnover margin. South Carolina is better than Tennessee, that is just a fact. If the Gamecocks have more possessions than the Vols I don’t see any possible way that Tennessee wins. If the Vols can force Connor Shaw into a couple of picks and maybe get into his head a little bit then perhaps they can have a shot to win the game.