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South Carolina Holds Off Guarantano, Vols 15-9

In classic Will Muschamp fashion, South Carolina pulled out a victory in Neyland Stadium by a final score of 15-9.

For Butch Jones, it’s his second straight to loss to the Gamecocks after “the best bye week” he’s had at Tennessee.

But like many of Jones’ duels with Muschamp, it started out somewhat promising. Jarrett Guarantano looked great in the first half, throwing just two incompletions. He also had 30 yards on six scrambles, using his legs to move the ball deep into the redzone.

On the Vols’ first trip inside the twenty, Guarantano was sacked for a big loss on third down. So the Vols settled for a field goal. One drive later, it was the same story. Tennessee travelled inside the ten, but Guarantano was sacked — forcing three more points for Brent Cimaglia.

Tennessee almost found the endzone creatively on a pass from Josh Smith.

The creative play-calling didn’t continue past the first half. On UT’s third trip inside the 20, Guarantano ran out of bounds for a loss of eight on second down. That took away the chances of another touchdown trip, and Cimaglia added a 24 yard field goal.

Tennessee wouldn’t score again, mustering just __ yards in the second half.

South Carolina adjusted at halftime, relying on its ground game to wear down the Vols’ defense. And Muschamp’s power running scheme worked to perfection. Backup running back AJ Turner rushed for 86 yards on 14 carries.

Somehow, Tennessee found some rhythm on its final drive. When Larry Scott and Butch Jones opened up the playbook down the field, Guarantano found success.

Tennessee travelled all the way down to the two yard line, and had two pass plays with four seconds left. The first attempt was deflected at the line. The next one flew right through Brandon Johnson’s hands.

“I thought I had him,” Guarantano said after the game.

The freshman quarterback finished the game 11-for-18 with 134 yards passing and -2 yards rushing. He was sacked six times.

“I couldn’t sleep last night. I couldn’t eat anything. I was very nervous. It truly fulfilled my dreams and I’m thankful for this opportunity,” he said.

Guarantano didn’t make any huge plays. But he definitely could have been worse.

UT didn’t run the ball once on its final drive, sticking with the one minute offense.

Guarantano said he felt comfortable in that scheme. That’s the same kind of offense he ran in limited action against Georgia.

“After the first snap I was good,” he said. “I felt very comfortable out there. I’m starting to get the hang of this thing, and we can only go up.”

Marquez Callaway got three of his four catches on the final drive. Tennessee didn’t rely on Callaway’s ability to catch jump balls until it mattered most. And when he was called upon, he dominated on the edge.

This is a tough start to the Guarantano, but he didn’t have a lot of chances to succeed.

He was consistently under pressure, unable to get the ball out to his targets down the field. Yes, the redshirt freshman has to do a better job getting rid of the ball more quickly. But when you ask Brett Kendrick, he couldn’t have been much better.

“I thought he was incredible,” Kendrick said. “I don’t know what else he could’ve done. What else can you ask him to do? He ran the ball when we needed it, took some hits. I thought his poise was incredible at the end there. We just came up a little short. He’s special.”

Today signified the end of a tough couple of weeks for one of UT’s most highly touted recruits under Butch Jones. It marked the end of a lot of frustration and disappointment for Guarantano, who wanted to play.

And he wasn’t very good at hiding it.

He readily admitted how frustrated he was watching Quinten Dormady start in the first five games of the season. But now he’s ready for a new chapter.

“There’s times I was really distraught and it was visible. I just had to understand my role. Of course it hurt, but I think it was for the better,” he said.

“It’s tough,” Kendrick added. “We want to win. And we can’t win if we don’t score. It’s frustrating, but we’ve got a lot of guys that want to win, and we’ll get it corrected.”

The Vols have their work cut out for them next week. UT travels to No. 1 Alabama for a 3:30 matchup with the Crimson Tide. Things will have to improve if Tennessee wants to stay within 30.

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