5 Observations: South Carolina 27, Tennessee 24

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    The Vols were able to go on the road two weeks ago and snag a victory in SEC play. But they couldn’t repeat that effort on Saturday, and they fell to South Carolina on the road 27-24.

    The Gamecocks (4-3, 3-3 SEC) prevailed over Tennessee (3-5, 1-4) 27-24 in a comeback victory. The Vols led for most of the game until South Carolina nailed a 25-yard field goal with 5:52 left in the game to take the 27-24 lead. Tennessee had one last shot on their next possession, but Jarrett Guarantano got sacked on a fourth-and-10, and the Gamecocks salted the clock away on the final possession.

    South Carolina shredded the Vols on the ground, gaining 236 yards and scoring two touchdowns on 38 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. The Gamecocks came back after trailing 21-9 after the Vols’ opening possession of the third quarter, and they managed to hold Tennessee’s offense mostly in check after that opening drive of the second half that went for a touchdown.

    The win marks South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp’s seventh consecutive win over the Vols, and he is a perfect 7-0 against Tennessee. He went 4-0 at Florida and is now 3-0 at South Carolina against the Vols.

    Here are our five biggest takeaways from the Vols’ third straight loss to South Carolina.

    Best Start All Season

    Tennessee got off to a good start in this game. But they couldn’t keep that momentum in the second half.

    The Vols scored a touchdown in the first quarter against the Gamecocks, marking the first time this season they managed to score a touchdown against a Power Five opponent in the first quarter. Tennessee ended up getting a 14-3 lead before South Carolina scored a touchdown and had the PAT blocked with less than a minute left in the second quarter. But that 14-9 halftime advantage marked the first time this year the Vols had a halftime lead over a Power Five team.

    South Carolina out-gained the Vols 172 yards to 142 yards, but Tennessee converted five of their seven third down attempts, and South Carolina had a turnover and converted just two of their five third down attempts.

    Unfortunately for the Vols, they didn’t continue to play that way in the second half.

    Second Half Defensive Struggles

    Tennessee’s offense wasn’t as effective in the second half, but they still played okay. The defense, however, was abysmal in the second half against South Carolina.

    The Vols held the Gamecocks to 5.4 yards per play in the first half and only allowed nine points. In the second half, however, Tennessee gave up 204 yards of offense to South Carolina and allowed 8.5 yards per play. The Gamecocks only possessed the ball for 8:42 of game time in the second half, but they didn’t need it for long. They had scoring drives of 1:57, 1:42, and 3:55 in the second half.

    South Carolina had four offensive possessions in the second half, and only one of them didn’t end in a score. And that was because it was the last possession of the game that was used to run down the clock.

    The Vols’ defense looked ready to play in the first half, but they got torched time and time again in the second half. They didn’t stop South Carolina at all, and the Vols’ offense couldn’t keep up.

    Pre-Snap Penalties Were Killer

    The Vols were called for nine penalties on Saturday, and six of them were pre-snap penalties on the offense. And almost all of them came on crucial downs.

    Tennessee had a substitution infraction on a third-and-three, three false starts on three different third down plays, and a false start on the Vols’ final fourth down of the game. Those penalties didn’t always end up biting the Vols on their third down plays, but the false start on fourth down was an absolute killer.

    Not only that, but Tennessee also had a few costly post-snap penalties. Jauan Jennings was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after his touchdown reception, and Marquez Callaway got flagged for the same call after a play in the third quarter as well.

    Tennessee played sloppy on offense pre-snap, and it came back to bite them.

    The Good and the Bad JG

    On the stat sheet, it will look like Jarrett Guarantano played one of his better games of his Tennessee career on Saturday. But actually watching the game will tell a different story.

    Guarantano made some great plays and showed some really good poise at times. He completed 27-of-39 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over. He even ran the ball a few times and picked up a few first downs.

    But there were times that Guarantano made the wrong reads, overthrew his receivers on plays that could’ve picked up a lot of yards, and held on to the ball too long.

    Guarantano wasn’t awful by any means, and he wasn’t the reason Tennessee lost the game. But the stats are a little misleading in this case, and Guarantano missed a few plays that could’ve shifted the tide in this game.

    Another Close One

    For the seventh straight time in the Tennessee-South Carolina series, this match-up was decided by just one score.

    This series has been decided by three points five times in the last seven meetings between these two teams, and it marks the second time in the last four meetings that the final score ended up being 27-24. Last time that was the score, the Vols were the victors in Neyland Stadium.