The Tennessee-South Carolina game may well be determined by a match-up of both teams' strengths.
In one corner is UT's secondary. In the other corner is South Carolina offensive guru Steve Spurrier.
UT's defensive backs appear up for the challenge Saturday night. The Vols have excelled in not allowing opposing offenses to score big plays via the passing game. Against Alabama, Georgia and Auburn, UT's longest yielded pass plays were 19, 21 and 24 yards, respectively.
"It's getting to that point where our chemistry is getting to where it needs to be," UT safety Eric Berry said on Wednesday.
The Gamecocks will test the recent improvement.
"A lot of vertical passing," Berry said of South Carolina's offense. "We're expecting a lot of deep balls. They use the pass to set up the run."
Berry also knows that Spurrier will be looking for UT's weakest link in the secondary. Berry, then a freshman, was the target in 2007.
"If he thinks someone has a flaw, he's going to go right after them," Berry said, "which I found out my freshman year."
This year, it's hard to find a glaring weakness in UT's secondary. The Vols rank sixth in passing yards allowed and 14th in passing efficiency defense. Berry is an All-American and junior cornerback Dennis Rogan , a former star at Fulton, seems to be playing his best as a Vol.
Spurrier's spotlight could feasibly turn to cornerback Art Evans or safety Janzen Jackson. Both are first-year starters. Evans has had his struggles at times this season while Jackson is a freshman who is often left alone as UT's last line of defense.
Injury Report: Kicker Daniel Lincoln (quad) did not practice.
Senior receiver Quintin Hancock (ankle) is expected to play Saturday but coach Lane Kiffin said he wasn't sure how much. Hancock was limited during practice but stayed after practice to work with UT's other receivers and quarterbacks.
Tight end Luke Stocker was wearing a green, non-contact jersey because of to back spasms. Stocker wasn't sure if the injury occurred before or after his catch against Alabama to give UT a game-winning field goal try.
Defensive end Chris Walker was limited with a sore back. Jackson was back at practice after missing practice Tuesday with a stomach virus.
Kiffin, however, wasn't complaining about the various, mostly minor injuries.
"We're pretty healthy for the most part," he said.
Practice Report: Kiffin said practice was "very good" and added that his team was in a good frame of mind.
"Guys had a lot of energy today," he said.
Kiffin said this week of practice is similar to the preparation UT had for Alabama last week. Kiffin said quarterback Jonathan Crompton was phenomenal in practice.
Payback: UT's defenders are playing better, in part, because its offensive counterparts have improved. By moving the ball and better controlling time of possession, UT's defenders have more energy.
"You've got a little bit more to give every play when you're rested like that," UT linebacker Rico McCoy said.
McCoy said there's a different mind-set when defenders have confidence that UT's offense can score.
"People won't admit it but it's sitting on your mind when you're playing from behind," McCoy said.
Scouting Report: South Carolina's defense does a good job of hiding its intentions in two areas.
First, the Gamecocks run a variety of blitz schemes.
"It's going to be a challenge for our offensive line to know where they're coming from," Crompton said, "but I think they're up for the challenge."
Second, the Gamecocks' defensive backs can be hard to read.
"They do a great job of disguising," UT receiver Gerald Jones said. "Their safeties are very run supportive."
That could help the Vols, especially if South Carolina's safeties get too nosy around the line of scrimmage.
"If we can run the ball well and they continue to be run supporting primarily, play action will really work against them," Jones said.