Rattler often isn’t running an offense. He’s running for his life.
And I don’t see his football life getting much better with a team that has lost its best receiver (Antwane Wells) to injury, doesn't have enough of a running game, and has an offensive line that repeatedly puts him in harm’s way.
No one has compared Tennessee’s offensive line to a steel fortress for a pocket passer. But it’s an upgrade over South Carolina’s.
Rattler should get SEC Offensive Player of the Week every week just for starting and finishing a game. He’s as close to a one-man band as anyone you will see in college football.
Tennessee fans know how competent Rattler can be. They watched him derail their run for a College Football Playoff berth in the Gamecocks’ 63-38 victory last September at Williams-Brice Stadium. The game was one big Rattler Highlight Show. He completed 30 of 37 passes for 438 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
But you won’t see that Rattler at Neyland Stadium this Saturday. His supporting cast likely won’t be up to the challenge.
Last season against the Vols: Wells caught 11 passes for 177 yards. He’s now sidelined by injury.
Last season against the Vols: South Carolina tight end/running back Jaheim Bell caught nine passes for 39 yards and two touchdowns and ran 17 times for 82 yards. Bell apparently envisioned what was ahead for the Gamecocks and transferred to Florida State.
In preseason, I thought South Carolina would give Tennessee its toughest September test. That was before I watched Florida dismantle the Vols in The Swamp. That also was before I saw North Carolina sack Rattler nine times in the season opener.
Perhaps, Rattler will evade UT’s pass rush long enough to combine with wide receiver Xavier Legette for significant gains. But another upset victory is probably too much to ask.
His best-case scenario with the Gamecocks is to finish the season as healthy as he was before opposing defenses began caving in his pass pocket. You couldn’t fault him if he opted out of the second half of the season and began preparing for the NFL Draft.
I’m not wondering how good Rattler will be in the NFL. I’m wondering how good he could have been in Heupel’s offense.
My best guess: He would be challenging Southern California’s Caleb Williams – his former teammate at Oklahoma − for the Heisman Trophy.
Entering Saturday’s game against Mississippi State, Rattler had completed 71.3% of his passes for 954 yards and four touchdowns. He was even better against the Bulldogs, completing 18 of 20 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns in the Gamecocks' 37-27 victory. He also ran eight times for 43 yards.
Rattler would be a perfect fit for Heupel’s up-tempo, spread offense. Never mind if he can't match UT quarterback Joe Milton's arm strength (who can?). He’s amazingly accurate even under duress and can deliver passes seemingly from any angle. Moreover, his mobility allows him to turn broken plays into highlights,
He’s fun to watch. But Tennessee fans would have more fun watching him quarterback their offense.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Imagine South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler in Tennessee football offense