COLUMBIA - South Carolina football head coach Will Muschamp said his team has had more offensive success at fall camp than he's had in a while "as far as being productive, being aggressive."
Muschamp now hopes that continues as the Gamecocks begin the regular season on Saturday.
USC will be playing host to No. 16 Tennessee at 7:30 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium. It will be the debut of Mike Bobo as the Carolina offensive coordinator, making him the third OC for Muschamp in what is the start of his fifth year in Columbia.
Hiring Bobo to replace Bryan McClendon was the most significant step Muschamp took to perk up its sluggish offense from last year's 4-8 season.
Collin Hill, who came to Columbia with Bobo as a graduate transfer, will be the starter at quarterback. He beat out Ryan Hilinski, who started the final 11 games as a true freshman after Jake Bentley was loss for the season after suffering an injury in the season opener. Also, the Gamecocks will have new tailbacks in Kevin Harris and Deshaun Fenwick, tight end in Nick Muse and two wide receiver spots in Dakereon Joyner and Xavier Legette.
USC lost five of its last six games last year, and that finish has some thinking Muschamp might be on the hot seat. He is 26-26 overall and 15-17 in SEC play at USC.
One of the most disappointing games during that stretch was a 41-21 loss to Tennessee. Carolina blew a halftime lead in what would end up as a 41-21 loss. That was the start of a 6-game, season-ending winning streak for the Vols, who finished 8-5.
Tennessee trailed 21-17 at the half and appeared to have little momentum as the Gamecocks scored a go-ahead touchdown right before the half.
After that, it was all Vols, who outscored South Carolina 24-0 in the second half. Tennessee continued by winning its next five, including rallying to defeat Indiana in the Gator Bowl.
Muschamp said the second-half fade was due in part to a faltering offense that could not be consistently productive down the stretch.
Tennessee linebacker Henry To'o To'o is convinced the team's run back to Southeastern Conference prominence wasn't a late-season fluke. The enthusiasm is high on Rocky Top, largely because of Tennessee's fast finish.
To'o To'o, who was the Southeastern Conference's second leading tackler among freshmen last season, is as excited as anyone about what Tennessee can achieve going forward.
"We know what to expect and how good we can be," he said. "When we play to our full potential, we can do great things."
South Carolina received state permission to have about 20,000 fans at the stadium, about a quarter of its newly reduced capacity of 77,559 due to offseason construction to increase luxury areas.
The smaller, COVID-19 crowd means the Vols won't see the crazed, loud, towel-waving students who make it a difficult environment for opponents, Tennessee tailback Eric Gray said.
"I definitely think it's going to be an advantage for us, especially on offense," he said.
Other things to watch when Tennessee plays South Carolina:
The Volunteers have both of their top running backs available with senior Ty Chandler and Gray. Gray says he struggled early to adapt to how quickly holes close up in college - something he figured out as he ran for 246 yards in a win over Vanderbilt. Gray also recovered an onside kick and scored the game-winning TD as the Vols rallied to beat Indiana the Gator Bowl.
Tennessee's 6 game win streak is the fifth-longest streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision and third-longest in the Power 5. It's also the longest in the SEC's Eastern Division, and the Vols have won four straight in SEC play.
The Gamecocks could have quarterbacks all over the field much of the time. While graduate transfer Hill will make his first start behind center, ex-passer Joyner is at receiver. A backup wideout on South Carolina's 2-deep is highly regarded freshman quarterback Luke Doty, also the third-string passer.
Not only did Muschamp lure defensive line coach Tracy Rocker away from Tennessee this offseason, he also hired Drew Hughes to be South Carolina's director of player personnel after holding that job the past two years at Tennessee. Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has Muschamp's nephew, Robert, as an equipment graduate assistant.
NO. 16 TENNESSEE @ SOUTH CAROLINA
No. 16 Tennessee at South Carolina, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network).
Line: Tennessee by 3 1/2. Series record: Tennessee leads 26-10-2.
WHAT'S AT STAKE?
Tennessee fans have plenty of enthusiasm that third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt has the Vols pointed back in their championship direction. A victory at South Carolina, where Tennessee has lost its last two games, would back that up. The Gamecocks have lost five of their last six and are in need of a strong showing after making several offensive changes this offseason.
Tennessee RB Eric Gray vs. South Carolina's defensive line: Gray, a freshman last season, was a big part of the Vols' last-season resurgence as he ran for 332 yards combined in wins over Vanderbilt and Indiana. South Carolina lost three starters on its front line led by first-round NFL draft pick Javon Kinlaw.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tennessee: QB Jarrett Guarantano lost his starting job last season, but chose to come back to school for another season after graduating. He has won the job outright and will look to get going fast to solidify his hold on QB1. South Carolina: QB Collin Hill is a graduate transfer from Colorado State who was raised in South Carolina and grew up following the Gamecocks. He gets to start his first game and will need to channel his emotions to keep South Carolina on track.
FACTS & FIGURES
It's been 78 years since Tennessee and South Carolina opened the season against each other. That 1942 game in Columbia ended in a 0-0 tie. ... South Carolina has a new offensive coordinator in Mike Bobo, the former Colorado State head coach. .... Bobo and Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt are friends who worked together on Georgia's staff. ... South Carolina received state permission to have about 20,000 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium. ... Tennessee kicker Brent Cimaglia made 23 of 27 field goals last season, the second best percentage (.852) in the Southeastern Conference last season.
More Articles to Read