Defensive Ineptitude Downs Tennessee At South Carolina

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    Photo by Ryan Schumpert/RTI

    COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina scored more offensive touchdowns than they had in the last month combined. Quarterback Spencer Rattler threw for two fewer touchdowns than he had the rest of the season combined. The Gamecocks scored more points than any SEC team ever has against Tennessee and the more points than any team ever has against an AP top five opponent.

    Defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus said it seemed like Tennessee’s defense was “playing in slow motion out there.”

    While the Vols’ defense played in slow motion, Tennessee’s goals and aspirations rapidly disappeared with South Carolina handing Tennessee an embarrassing, 63-38, defeat at Williams-Brice Stadium.

    “Obviously, extremely disappointed with the outcome and the performance of this football game,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “It’s everyone that’s involved. From myself, to our assistant coaches to our players. We had an opportunity here and we didn’t take advantage of it.”

    There was a lot for Tennessee to be disappointed in but it all starts with a pitiful defensive performance.

    The nicest thing you could say about South Carolina’s passing attack this season is that it is competent and even that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. But it didn’t matter against Tennessee.

    Rattler completed 30-of-37 passes for 438 yards and six touchdowns. Outside of a strong performance in a blowout loss at Arkansas, Rattler hadn’t thrown for more than 227 yards in a game this season.

    The Oklahoma transfer said he felt “unstoppable” against Tennessee. He was. Rattler looked like the five-star prospect he was coming out of high school and not the middling quarterback he’s been for the last two years.

    Tennessee’s rotating group of mediocre corners had a disastrous night. The Vols moved on from Doneiko Slaughter after a bad first drive. Brandon Turnage left the game injured after making a terrible play on the ball in the second quarter.

    More From RTI: Hendon Hooker Injured Against South Carolina

    Rattler and the Gamecocks picked on Kamal Hadden — who was more concerned with talking trash to anyone in garnet than guarding them — throughout the game.

    “We tried multiple guys out on the edge and some inside,” Heupel said.

    Tennessee’s corners got little help from its pass rush. The Vols sacked Rattler once — and promptly gave up a third-and-20 conversion — and South Carolina’s offensive line kept the pocket clean for its quarterback all night.

    “At times, I think we lacked getting pressure back there on him,” Bumphus said. “When you have all day to throw, it tends to be a lot easier.”

    South Carolina consistently torched Tennessee on third downs, converting eight-of-11 attempts and both of its fourth down attempts.

    We played man,” Heupel said. “We played zone. (Defensive coordinator) Tim (Banks) tried to find an answer to it but at the end of the day we didn’t. … At the end of the day we didn’t defend anything the way that you need to. You can’t play in this league that way.”

    Banks isn’t working with much talent on the defensive side of the ball and especially in the defensive backfield, but giving up touchdowns on nine of 10 drives against South Carolina’s offense is more than just personnel issues.

    Heupel’s second season has been a success but it came crumbling down rapidly Saturday night. What remains when the dust settles will be nearly as challenging a task as Heupel has faced in his two years in Knoxville.

    Ryan Schumpert is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. Ryan spent three years with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program before joining RTI. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.

    1 COMMENT

    1. What so many people don’t realize is that a head coaches most challenging job, is to get his team ready to play (motivated) when they leave that locker room and run onto that field. You can have the perfect game plan but when your team lacks “focus”, then they will not perform (as a team) at their best. Personally, I don’t think the Tennessee Titans could have beaten South Carolina last night. That game was one of those phenomenal events in sports that you just don’t want to be on the wrong side of. The real Rattler finally surfaced last night (after 2 years) and he started playing up to his capabilities. His throws were perfect and could have been caught by middle school players. Mike Tyson once said “hey, everyone has a plan until you get hit!” There was nothing wrong with Tennessee’s plan…they weren’t ready emotionally (motivated) (my opinion) and the defense was demoralized when everything that Rattler threw at the wall stuck. But, those same 2 teams play 4 more games against each other and TN wins them all. I could be wrong, but I doubt that Rattler will ever repeat that performance last night. TN has a great team and a great coach! Payback will be sweet but the focus now will be on how the leaders on the TN team respond to this embarrassing loss. We move forward without Hooker (praying the injury is minor) but the rest of the team has to step up…own this and make the choice (as a team) that they will overcome this temporary setback! This loss does not negate the amazing games they have won and the strides they have made as a program (in less than 2 years) on their journey to greatness. Get back on track…get locked in mentally…go VOLS!

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