Tennessee's rallying cry for this week should be: "The worst is over." But you couldn't expect UT's offense to embrace it by acclamation.
A perilous schedule will take a cruel twist for the Vols this Saturday. After being pummeled by No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama on back-to-back Saturdays, the worst is over — unless you are assigned to block Nos. 6 and 7.
South Carolina pales when compared to the nation's two best teams. In fact, its offensive attrition is a match for Tennessee's.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia was demoted and then dismissed from the team. All-SEC running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury nine days ago. Even when the offense was at full strength, it didn't remind anyone of the offenses coach Steve Spurrier fielded at Florida.
Sure, the Gamecocks are still tied for the lead in the SEC East. But that's like leading the NFC South.
South Carolina can't take credit for Florida's collapse or the hole UT's program has dug for itself. And beating Georgia isn't grounds for a parade.
South Carolina isn't a great team. It's a team with great players.
That's where the cruel twist comes in. A UT offensive line that has had to exchange blows with college football's elite defensive fronts the last two weeks is overdue for a break. Instead of a break, it will get offense backbreakers Melvin Ingram (No. 6) and Jadeveon Clowney (No. 7).
They're as hard to block as Alabama's Trent Richardson is to tackle. They're dominant on their own and a wrecking crew in tandem.
Twice this season, Clowney forced a fumble and Ingram turned the turnover into a touchdown.
Ingram also has scored a touchdown without the help of Clowney. The 6-foot-2, 276 pound Ingram ran 68 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt against Georgia. It wasn't as though the Bulldogs were bamboozled by the trickery.
They saw Ingram coming. They just couldn't tackle him.
He stepped over one defender at the line, evaded another would-be tackler in mid-run and ran through a diving-tackle attempt at the goal line.
Aside from Ingram's 68-yards-per-carry rushing average, his most impressive numbers are a team-high 5.5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss. Not bad for a guy who some thought would lose his starting job to Clowney. Instead, Ingram has lined up at tackle or end, often together with Clowney, who is playing up to his billing as the No. 1 high school player in the country last year.
The 6-6, 245-pound Clowney is fast enough to play linebacker. But you can understand why the Gamecocks would want him lined up closer to the opposing quarterback. He has seven tackles for loss, four sacks and four forced fumbles.
Clowney and Ingram are so athletic for their size, they're more fun to watch than your average college running back. They look as though they should be playing in Alabama's or LSU's defensive line.
That wouldn't be fair.