COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tennessee’s dream season came to an end Saturday night when South Carolina handed the Vols and embarrassing, 63-38, loss at Williams-Brice Stadium. The loss ends Tennessee’s playoff hopes and ends a three-game losing streak over the Gamecocks.
Four quick takeaways on a devastating loss for Tennessee.
Gamecocks Jump On Tennessee Early
Tennessee starting fast and taking the home crowd out of the game was one of my three keys for this matchup. The Vols did anything but start fast as South Carolina’s offense torched Tennessee on its way to opening up a 21-7 first quarter lead.
The Gamecocks went 75 yards on nine plays in the game’s opening drive including third-and-long and fourth down conversions. Tennessee quickly answered with a four play touchdown drive including a Jabari Small 31-yard touchdown run.
From there, South Carolina barely converted a fourth-and-short before South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler hit Josh Vann down the seem for a 60-yard touchdown.
Tennessee went backwards on its ensuing drive and then South Carolina converted two third downs on its way to a seven play, 64 yard touchdown drive.
The Gamecocks success came almost exclusively through the air where Rattler completed 10-of-12 passes for 182 yards. South Carolina entered the matchup averaging just 28 points and 198 passing yards per game. The big quarter marked Tennessee defense’s worst of the season.
It was just the start of Tennessee’s defensive troubles on the night.
Tennessee Doesn’t Double Dip But Does Next Best Thing
Tennessee looked in danger of getting blown out when South Carolina scored to take a 35-17 lead with 2:04 left in the second quarter. The Gamecocks had just scored a touchdown on their fifth consecutive drive and was in complete control of the game.
Tennessee needed a double dip around halftime to get back in the game.
The Vols used their extreme tempo to make a two-minute drill drive look methodical. South Carolina didn’t want to give anything up over the top and Tennessee was content to work its way down the field.
Hooker found Tillman for eight, Small ran for seven, Hooker was incomplete to Tillman then found Hyatt for 10, Small ran for five then Hooker found Squirrel White for six, Hyatt for eight and then Tillman for 10. After Hooker misfired to White, he found Hyatt for eight.
The last pass gave Tennessee third-and-two at the seven-yard line as Josh Heupel called his final timeout with 18 seconds left in the half. A South Carolina defender tipped Hooker’s third down pass but it found Bru McCoy in the end zone for a touchdown.
The methodical drive gave Tennessee seven points before half and pulled the Vols back into the game before halftime.
However, there was nothing going in Tennessee’s opening drive of the second half. The Vols picked up one first down but had to punt after Hooker threw behind Jacob Warren on third down.
It was a great time for Tennessee to get its first stop of the game and that’s what they did. The Vols forced a three-and-out and gave the offense another chance.
Hooker and the Vols capitalized the second time as no one guarded Princeton Fant and Hooker found him right down the seem for a 41-yard touchdown that pulled Tennessee back within four.
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As Bad A Defensive Performance As Imaginable
Tennessee’s defense has been its weakness all season, but its performance Saturday night in Columbia was worse than anything else its put on the field all season.
South Carolina’s offense is one of the SEC’s worst but had its best game of the season against the Vols. The Gamecocks’ 63 points was 25 more than its previous high against a SEC opponent. Rattler looked like the player South Carolina was hoping when he left Oklahoma and not the player he has been all season.
The Gamecocks’ quarterback passed his previous season high 377 passing yards with a 438 yard performance. The mark was way over Rattler’s second best performance of 227 yards.
South Carolina scored touchdowns on nine of 10 drives that didn’t end the half. Tennessee’s offense wasn’t its best against the Gamecocks, but the defensive performance against a bad offense made it an uphill climb for the Vols’ offense to climb.
The Worst Dagger Imaginable
The game was all but over when South Carolina scored to go up, 49-31, early in the fourth quarter. It was completely over on the next play from scrimmage when Hooker fell awkwardly while trying to cut on a run.
Hooker was ruled down on the field but the replay booth overturned the call and gave South Carolina the ball inside the red zone. Four plays later, Dakerion Joyner strolled into the end zone for a touchdown. The point after attempt extended the Gamecocks’ lead to four possessions and ended any chance of a miracle comeback.
The injury being non contact is particularly worrisome for Hooker and his future. The senior gingerly walked off the field but the injury did not look good for the star quarterback. After going into the injury tent, Hooker limped — with help from trainers — into the Tennessee locker room.
Rocky Top Insider will have complete postgame coverage from the Vols’ loss and on Hooker’s injury.