Videos by OutKick
It hasn’t been the most pleasant start to bowl season for the SEC, with the conference currently sitting at 0-4, after Auburn and Mississippi State lost on Tuesday. It certainly doesn’t look great that the four losses came against Texas Tech, Houston, UCF and Army. So, the SEC is certainly rooting for Tennessee and South Carolina to swing the momentum on Thursday.
The Gamecocks are rolling into the Duke’s Mayo Bowl with a bit of a quarterback problem. Shane Beamer has to be a bit nervous with only Zeb Noland being a guy with actual reps this season. This is the case because Jason Brown decided to enter the transfer portal and Luke Doty is recovering from foot surgery. So, Beamer has been working other players out at the position, especially those with quarterback experience from high school. It’s not an ideal situation for the Gamecocks to be in, as they prepare for North Carolina, but they are trying to make it work, according to Beamer.
“You want to make sure that you’ve got enough quarterbacks to play the game, so I’m not going to say we’ve had open tryouts, but you certainly have got to kind of have a break glass in case of emergency type thing as well,” Beamer said. “But we’ve got high hopes for those guys. Zeb’s a veteran, savvy guy that’s done a great job all year. I’m excited about seeing him go out in his final chapter of his career and this season at Carolina.”
How this all plays out will be interesting to watch, especially if something were to happen to Noland, who has battled a few injuries this season. Either way, North Carolina will be bringing the heat on Thursday, looking to force a few turnovers from the former graduate assistant turned quarterback. The Gamecocks will need to establish some kind of running game, which could come from Zaquandre White, who led the team in rushing yards this season or Kevin Harris, who was second on the team. Either way, the Tar Heels will present a huge challenge for the South Carolina defense, with Sam Howell playing in the game despite declaring for the NFL Draft. Let’s not forget Ty Chandler at running back and Josh Downs at receiver, who have been huge contributors for this offense.
North Carolina is currently a 9.5 point favorite over the Gamecocks, according to FanDuel.
For the Gamecocks to win this football game, they will have to get creative with the offensive play calling. Sticking Zeb Noland in the backfield and hoping he can pick off the Tar Heel secondary might be challenging, so they will most likely need to force a few turnovers on defense. The Gamecocks have given up 190 yards rushing yards or more in the past four of five games. Simply put, Shane Beamer better get tricky if he’s going to beat Mack Brown.
Over in Nashville, the Music City Bowl will be played on Thursday afternoon, with Tennessee and Purdue facing off. The Vols come into this game full of momentum, winning seven games this season with an offense that has impressed folks around the country. The catalyst for this offensive swing has been quarterback Hendon Hooker, who has thrown for 2,567 yards with 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions. The Tennessee offense currently ranks 15th in the country in total offense and 9th in scoring offense. Josh Heupel and his staff have done a fantastic job using their veterans on offense to spark this team. Cedric Tillman, Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton are the weapons at receiver, while Jabari Small will be used heavily at running back.
The Vols are currently a 5.5 point favorite, according to FanDuel.
This football team will cause the Purdue defense multiple problems, especially with the tempo they play with, wearing down opponents all season. But for Tennessee to be successful on Thursday, they’ll have to avoid the quick three and outs, which have caused the defense problems this year the it comes to depth at certain spots. The Vols are still building, which means they are short handed at some spots, especially with a few injuries. The main concern for Tennessee fans would probably center around the offensive line, who have given up 42 sacks this season. We will see if Cade Mays plays, but he hasn’t played or practiced much at all over the last six weeks, so you can bet Purdue will attack his spot along the line of scrimmage.
Quarterback Aidan O’Connell will lead Purdue on offense, where he has the best passing percentage in the Big Ten, at 73.5% during the regular season. He backs it up with his numbers, throwing for 3,178 yards with 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Boilermakers will be without their top receivers, as David Bell and Milton Wright will not be playing in the bowl game. Purdue has struggled all season to run the football, so expect I would expect them to test this Tennessee secondary, a lot.
Jerome Carvin, a senior on the offensive line who will be returning next season, made it a point to say that Tennessee is looking to make a statement on Thursday, as they look ahead to 2022.
“It’s like a statement game, if that makes sense. We have to show what we can do, especially with this offense and the team that we’re playing against. We are playing a really good Big 10 team. It’s a statement game.”
The Vols are looking for their fifth straight bowl win over a Big Ten team, which dates back to 2014. I’d say the SEC is hoping Tennessee extends that winning streak and South Carolina finds a way to beat the Tar Heels with a banged up quarterback room. It would look pretty rough for the conference if they stood at 0-5 in bowl season come Thursday night.
I don’t think the fans that love to throw out the “SEC” chant will have to worry about going winless through the first five bowl games. Just a hunch.