Five plays that determined Tennessee’s win over South Carolina

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    Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

    No. 16 Tennessee squeaked out a 31-27 win over South Carolina on Saturday night in Colombia to start the season off 1-0.

    It wasn’t always pretty, but the Vols managed to sort things out despite allowing a touchdown on the first drive of the game and blowing a two-touchdown lead in the third quarter. With the win, Tennessee has now won seven games in a row dating back to last season. The winning streak is the nation’s second-longest of any Power Five school and the third-longest in all of FBS.

    Here are the five plays that determined Tennessee’s season-opening win over South Carolina.

    Holiday recovers the fumble

    The play that won the game was Jimmy Holiday’s fumble recovery off of a Paxton Brooks punt that hit the leg of a South Carolina player to cause a fumble. Carolina’s punt returner was unable to field Brooks’ punt inside of the 20 and the fellow Gamecocks on the field did a poor job of clearing out of the area so that the football wouldn’t hit them on a bounce.

    To’o To’o’s pick-six

    Tennessee sophomore inside linebacker Henry To’o To’o came up with his first interception of his career and returned it 32-yards for the touchdown. To’o To’o’s first career pick-six gave the Vols a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. It was Tennessee’s first pick-six since Kyle Phillips had a pick-six against Alabama on Oct. 20, 2018.

    You also love to see the effort of junior cornerback Alontae Taylor on the player, leading the charge to get To’o To’o into the end zone.

    Gray picks up blitz, sets up Guarantano to Palmer

    Tennessee took the lead for good in the fourth quarter on a 32-yard passing touchdown from Jarrett Guarantano to Josh Palmer. It was a beautiful throw by Guarantano and a great route by Palmer to get open. But what set up the go-ahead score was the previous play when Eric Gray picked up a blitzing linebacker and allowed Guarantano to find a wide open Brandon Johnson over the middle of the field for a gain of 33-yards.

    Bennett and Johnson off the edge

    South Carolina’s Parker White connected on a 35-yard field goal to tie the game at 24-all with 10:48 remaining in the fourth quarter. It could have, and maybe should have, been more on the drive for Carolina. But Kivon Bennett and Deandre Johnson stepped up big time on the drive to hold the Gamecocks to a field goal and not allow them to take the lead.

    Carolina drove right down the field on the drive. After a couple of big passing plays, big running plays and a bone-headed personal foul penalty against Jeremy Banks, Carolina was well across the 50 and looking like they were about to take the lead. On 2nd-and-10 from the 12-yard line, Bennett had a big open-field tackle on the edge that likely prevented a touchdown. On the following 3rd-and-10 play, Johnson sacked Collin Hill to bring up 4th-and-15 and force a field goal. It was a huge momentum swing.

    Gray’s scamper for six

    Gray’s lone rushing touchdown came from 12-yards out to give Tennessee a 21-7 lead with 12:28 remaining in the third quarter. It capped a beautiful drive for the Vols coming out of halftime. It consisted of six runs, two called passes, 74 yards, six points and was easily the Vols most efficient drive of the night. There were zero third downs attempted on the drive.

    Honorable mention: Thompson blows up wide receiver screen

    Bryce Thompson had a similar play to Johnson’s and Bennett’s that continued to swing momentum in Tennessee’s favor.

    Following Guarantano’s touchdown to Palmer to give Tennessee a 31-24 lead, Thompson made sure to let South Carolina know they would not be retaining the momentum. Carolina got the ball back with 9:35 remaining in the game and Thompson blew up the very first play of the drive. The Gamecocks tried a screen pass to running back Zaquandre White. Thompson flew into the backfield and tackled White for a loss of four.

    South Carolina would go three-and-out on the drive and have to punt. The punt was not pretty. It set up Tennessee with great field possession on the 50-yard line and a chance to go up two scores late in the fourth quarter.

    Highlight of the game: Johnson’s one-handed catch

    The highlight of the game is an easy choice. Tennessee senior wide receiver Brandon Johnson had a tremendous one-handed catch down the sideline. It was worth of making it on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.