South Carolina is preparing to go down to the wire again

AP File Photo/ Richard Shiro USC’s Pharoh Cooper, right, had 11 catches for 233 yards and two scores last year against Tennessee. The past three games between the two have been decided by a total of eight points.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — While there is a sense Tennessee shouldn’t have much trouble beating South Carolina on Saturday, this annual series’ recent history tells a much different story.

The past three games between these teams have been decided by a total of eight points. South Carolina won 38-35 in 2012 when Jadeveon Clowney sacked delivered a sack and forced a fumble with Tennessee in the red zone in the final minute. Tennessee won in overtime last season and on a field goal as time expired in 2013.

All those dramatic finishes mean nobody’s taking anything for granted this week even with Tennessee (4-4, 2-3 SEC) entering Saturday’s game as a 17-point favorite.

“The last two years, the games have come down to the final play of the game,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “This is going to be another 60-minute, if it’s multiple overtimes, whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Tennessee’s past couple of games with South Carolina have produced two of the biggest wins of Jones’ three-year tenure with the Volunteers.

The Vols’ 23-21 victory over No. 11 South Carolina in 2013 marks one of only two wins Tennessee has over a ranked team since Jones’ arrival. That South Carolina team didn’t lose again and was ranked fourth at the end of the season.

Last year, Tennessee rallied for a 45-42 overtime victory after erasing a two-touchdown deficit in the final two minutes of regulation time.

South Carolina (3-5, 1-5) has changed quite a bit since those two meetings.

Steve Spurrier stepped down as South Carolina’s coach last month and was replaced on an interim basis by Shawn Elliott, who had been working as offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator. South Carolina has beaten Vanderbilt 19-10 and has lost 35-28 at Texas A&M in two games under Elliott.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Elliott said. “We have to continue to improve as a football team like we have in the past few weeks. ‘’

Here are some things to watch Saturday when Tennessee hosts South Carolina.

Last year’s Tennessee-South Carolina game was a showcase performance for Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who had 310 yards passing and 1666 yards rushing that night. Dobbs enters Saturday’s rematch on a bit of a roll, as he had two touchdown runs and a pair of touchdown passes last week in a 52-21 blowout of Kentucky.

South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper had 11 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee last year to set the Gamecocks’ single-game record for yards receiving.

Tennessee has scored on three kickoff returns and two punt returns this season and had two more punt return touchdowns nullified by penalty. Evan Berry leads all FBS players with his average of 42.6 yards per kickoff return.

Perry Orth is the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback, but the versatility of Lorenzo Nunez offers them some options.

Who’s missing

Tennessee offensive tackle Brett Kendrick will miss a fourth consecutive game due to elbow and knee injuries. Tennessee cornerback Emmanuel Moseley will miss the first half after receiving a targeting penalty in the second half of last week’s game with Kentucky. The status of Tennessee offensive guard Jashon Robertson (ankle) and wide receiver Preston Williams (hamstring) remains uncertain.