Game preview: UT vs. South Carolina
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The South Carolina Gamecocks are looking forward to playing Tennessee's new starting quarterback Justin Worley.
Worley, a true freshman, has little college experience but led Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C., to a state title and undefeated season last year. Those wins came against many of the Gamecocks' players.
"I'll get a little payback for the boys back at home. It was rough out there for them. I'm certainly going to be thinking about that when I go out on the field this time," said South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, whose Greenwood High lost 42-10 to Northwestern in the state championship game last season.
This year's meeting between No. 14 South Carolina and Tennessee certainly has a youthful tenor to it.
True freshman running back Brandon Wilds will make his first start for the Gamecocks (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) in place of star Marcus Lattimore, who led the SEC in rushing for much of the year until suffering a season-ending knee injury against Mississippi State. Sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw will try to find some offensive rhythm in his third start since replacing fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia, who was eventually dismissed for failing an alcohol test.
Meanwhile, the Vols (3-4, 0-4) will look to its young defense to expose Shaw and Wilds' weaknesses while hoping an offensive line full of sophomores will protect Worley long enough for him to get the ball to his receivers. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley decided to start Worley in place of Matt Simms, who struggled against No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama after taking over for Tyler Bray, who broke his thumb.
"We're going against the SEC East champs and they stroked us there last year," Dooley said. "They have had a couple of personnel issues as well, but it hasn't really affected them too much because they have found a way to win. We have to focus on improving and we will see how we go this week."
Garcia threw for 223 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores as South Carolina beat Tennessee 38-24 last year in Columbia. The Gamecocks have only won once in Knoxville in 15 tries, though.
With two of its three top offensive playmakers from last year's SEC East championship team gone, South Carolina is relying on its defense to keep alive the hopes for a repeat title. The Gamecocks are tied for the East lead with Georgia but own the head-to-head tiebreaker with their September win against the Bulldogs.
The South Carolina defense is giving up just 277.6 yards per game, ranking it seventh in the nation, and has 14 interceptions this season. Assistant head coach Ellis Johnson's unit is top in the nation in pass defense, having allowed 133.7 yards passing per game and logged 15 sacks.
And Dooley acknowledges he doesn't quite know how Worley will react to the stout defensive line that helps produce those stats.
Worley spent most of the year as the third-stringer behind Bray and Simms, but Dooley said he saw the freshman step up after Bray's injury. The extent of Worley's playing time was five plays in Tennessee's loss at Alabama last week, though he passed for 5,315 yards and a state-record 64 touchdowns as a high school senior.
"Ellis is going to be licking his chops," Dooley said. "We just need to make this move. It's not something that is done on a whim. We have a lot of data to make a switch. We don't have a lot of data on Justin."
The Gamecocks' switch at running back wasn't by choice, but they've had a bye week to better prepare him for his starting role. Though he only has 13 carries for 75 yards this season, he's shown some speed and power that could give him the chance to do well against the Vols as long as he gets some help.
"Brandon Wilds is a good running back," Spurrier said. "If we get the ball enough a block a little bit, he certainly can make some yards. But we've still got to block, which we haven't blocked quite as well I think this year as we did last year. We'll see how it goes Saturday night."
The Vols will be turning to some freshmen of their own to stop Wilds and trip up Shaw, who threw for four touchdowns and 311 yards against Kentucky but just one touchdown, 155 yards and two interceptions against Mississippi State.
Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson was named SEC freshman of the week after logging 13 tackles against Alabama, and his 45 tackles this season lead all SEC freshman and the Vols defense. Freshman free safety Brian Randolph had 17 total tackles against the Crimson Tide and LSU and is ready for Shaw, Wilds and top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had a 70-yard touchdown against Tennessee last year.
"You can't shy away from contact," Randolph said. "That will get you on the bench very fast. If it's your job to tackle, then you have to tackle. You have to keep coming back. You can't shy away from anyone."
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this story.