(Photo credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports)
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel dismissed the notion that last season's loss to South Carolina will provide any additional motivation for his team this weekend.
With that in mind, the 21st-ranked Volunteers will head into their Southeastern Conference home opener on Saturday looking to extend their winning streak in Knoxville, Tenn., to 12 games.
As for Heupel's most recent trip to Columbia, S.C. ... well, Spencer Rattler did his best to make sure it wasn't fun. Rattler completed 30 of 37 passes for 438 yards and six touchdowns to fuel the Gamecocks' 63-38 thrashing of Tennessee on Nov. 19, 2022. The loss effectively ruined the Volunteers' playoff chances.
"It's a new week every week," Heupel said Monday. "Last year, they were more physical than us. They competed harder than we did on that night. We didn't handle the environment the right way. Those are lessons that have to continue to move forward with us as a program, but last year has nothing to do with this week."
This season, Tennessee (3-1, 0-1 SEC) rebounded from a 29-16 setback to Florida on Sept. 16 -- a decision that sent the Volunteers tumbling 12 spots in the poll -- by breezing to a 45-14 victory over UTSA last Saturday.
Joe Milton III rushed for an 81-yard touchdown on the first play, marking the 27th time in 30 games under Heupel that Tennessee has scored a touchdown in the first quarter.
Milton added two passing touchdowns and Dylan Sampson rushed for 139 and a pair of scores for the Volunteers, who bolted to a 31-0 lead at halftime. Tennessee rolled up 512 total yards and averaged 9.2 yards per carry.
The Volunteers also forced three turnovers, and that defensive effort would be a welcome sight for Heupel as his club hopes to contain Rattler.
"He's a really good player. He's played at a high level; he's played a lot of football. He's playing extremely well right now, (and) he was dynamic in that football game (last year), but he has that in his arsenal," Heupel said.
"We gotta do a really good job of getting him in third-and-long, (because) last year we didn't get off the field on third-and-long. Some of that was him standing in there and making some special plays. We gotta do a great job of bottling him up and applying pressure at the same time."
Rattler helped South Carolina (2-2, 1-1) rebound from a 24-14 loss to No. 1 Georgia on Sept. 16 by tossing three touchdowns in a 37-30 victory over Mississippi State last Saturday. Rattler, named the co-SEC Offensive Player of the Week, completed 18 of 20 passes for 288 yards.
Xavier Legette proved to be Rattler's most trusted target, getting five receptions for 189 yards and two scores.
"He works that way in practice, and it shows on Saturday nights," Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer said of Legette. "He's a fantastic player. ... Proud of him the way that he continues to work, and, like I said last week, we've got to continue to bring some of these other receivers along. Trey Knox did a nice job -- four catches, that was big.
"All those other receivers, while Juice (Wells, foot injury) is out, it's not just Legette that we can count on. These other guys have to continue to make strides."
--Field Level Media