South Carolina started the game with a 75-yard touchdown through the air on the first play of the game.
But Tennessee didn’t blink.
The Vols played three different players at quarterback against the Gamecocks, and Jarrett Guarantano exited after taking a huge hit and in the middle of playing one of his better games as a Vol.
Again, Tennessee didn’t blink.
The Vols had to endure four different official reviews in the first half to see if South Carolina got a touchdown, and they gave up a score right before halftime to relinquish the lead going into the half, trailing 21-17 heading into the second half.
Tennessee did not blink.
The second half belonged to the Vols, and Tennessee (3-5, 2-3 SEC) used explosive plays, creative play-calling, big defensive stops, and timely plays on special teams to blow past South Carolina (3-5, 2-4 SEC) in the final half of play, winning 41-21.
Redshirt freshman JT Shrout started at quarterback for the Vols, but he didn’t take the first snap. Jauan Jennings did, and he would play wildcat quarterback several times throughout the contest. After a slow start by Shrout, Guarantano came on in relief, and after a shaky start, he turned it on and provided a huge spark for UT’s offense. Guarantano would exit after a big hit on a touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings, but Shrout played well when he came in after that, throwing a touchdown pass of his own to Marquez Callaway.
After a back-and-forth first half, Tennessee dominated in the second half, shutting out the Gamecocks and scoring 24 points themselves.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s much-needed victory over South Carolina.
Playing Like Men Possessed
Both Jauan Jennings and Daniel Bituli seemed to be competing with each other in this game for who could have the most memorable performance of the night.
The two seniors put together their best games of their Tennessee careers on Saturday against South Carolina. Jennings was a do-it-all player for the Vols in the game, making huge plays as a receiver and taking snaps as a wildcat quarterback on multiple occasions. The redshirt senior poured his emotion onto the field time and time again, and he finished the game with a career-high 174 receiving yards on seven catches, hauling in two touchdowns as well. His 174 receiving yards were the most by a Vol in a single game since 2012 when both Justin Hunter (181 yards) and Cordarrelle Patterson (219 yards) had monster games against Troy. Jennings also totaled 18 rushing yards on five carries as a QB.
On defense (and special teams), Bituli was a force to be reckoned with. The senior linebacker amassed 15 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass breakup, and he had the biggest non-offensive play of the game when he blocked a punt then recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown to bust the game open, giving the Vols a 41-21 lead in the fourth quarter.
The two veterans were unstoppable on Saturday, and they were two of the biggest reasons the Vols pulled out the huge win.
Tennessee’s offense came alive with some dynamic plays against South Carolina. The Vols had touchdown plays of 19, 48, and 55 yards against the Gamecocks. The Vols totaled nine plays of 15 or more yards in the passing game, and their rushing attack managed four plays of 10 or more yards.
Both Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway were responsible for the huge touchdown plays through the air, as Jennings hauled in a 19-yard score and made a big grab then run for 48 yards and a touchdown. Callaway also caught a pass then ran the rest of the way for his 55-yard touchdown.
And that was just on offense.
All in all, Tennessee averaged 7.1 yards per play on offense against South Carolina, easily their best average of the season. The Vols picked up a first down or a touchdown on 23 of their 65 plays (before kneel downs) on offense.
Jim Chaney at His Finest
Despite starting quarterback Brian Maurer missing the game, despite Jarrett Guarantano getting knocked out of the game after playing well, despite having a couple offensive linemen get hurt in the middle of the game, and despite playing three different players at quarterback, Tennessee’s offense performed the best it has all season.
The Vols amassed nearly 500 yards of offense in the game, getting 485 yards on 68 total plays. With JT Shrout, Jarrett Guarantano, and Jauan Jennings all taking snaps at quarterback, the Vols managed to total 351 passing yards and three touchdowns. That is the most passing yards Tennessee has had in a game as a team since totaling 402 yards through the air as a team against Texas A&M in 2016.
On the night, Guarantano was 11-of-19 for 229 yards and two touchdowns, and Shrout finished 7-of-11 for 122 yards and a score. Neither quarterback turned the ball over. In fact, Tennessee had zero turnovers the entire game.
Tennessee’s 485 yards of offense were the most the Vols had put up against an SEC team in Jeremy Pruitt’s tenure as head coach.
Jim Chaney earned his paycheck in this game, and it was one of the most impressive offensive performances the Vols have had in quite some time.
Throw Some Love to the Defense and Special Teams, Too
Let’s not give all the credit to the offense for this win, though.
After giving up a 75-yard touchdown on the opening play of the game, Tennessee’s defense really clamped down on the Gamecocks. The Vols forced back-to-back three-and-outs for South Carolina after that huge score, and they wouldn’t give up another touchdown to the Gamecocks until 3:16 to go in the second quarter.
In the second half, the defense played even better. The Vols didn’t allow South Carolina to score a single point in the final half of play, and UT’s defense held the Gamecocks to just 58 total yards of offense in the third quarter. Until South Carolina started picking up some chunks late in the fourth, they were getting stymied in the final quarter of play, too. In the second half, South Carolina only averaged 4.1 yards a play.
On special teams, Tennessee scored two touchdowns. Marquez Callaway had a brilliant 65-yard punt return for a touchdown to give the Vols their first touchdown of the game, then Daniel Bituli slammed the door shut with his blocked punt that he recovered for a score with 11:41 to go in the game, giving UT the final 41-21 edge.
Tennessee’s offense deserves a ton of credit for this game, but the Vols out-played South Carolina in all three phases on Saturday night.
For the first time in Tennessee history, the Vols finally own a victory over Will Muschamp in his head coaching career.
Muschamp had beaten the Vols seven-straight times as a head coach dating back to his time as Florida’s head coach from 2011-14. He was 3-0 against Tennessee as South Carolina’s head coach, winning in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
That winning streak is no more.
Tennessee ended their losing skid against Muschamp and the Gamecocks in a big way on Saturday afternoon, blasting past South Carolina in the second half to prevail 41-21.
The total margin of victory for the winning team in this series over the last six years was 21 points. No game was decided by more than six points in that stretch. The Vols won by 20 points on Saturday night.
Back in 2014, Will Muschamp said he was happy to see the Vol fans in Neyland Stadium “leave here disappointed.”
On Saturday night, it was finally Muschamp who left Neyland Stadium disappointed.