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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’s how each position performed in Tennessee’s season-opening win over South Carolina.

    Quarterback

    Jarrett Guarantano wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad either. The most important box Guarantano needed to check off against South Carolina was taking care of the football. He did that, not throwing an interception. QB No. 1 for the Vols finished 19-of-31 for 259 yards and a touchdown.

    Where Guarantano did struggle is with his accuracy. He missed far too many throws that should have been fairly routine completions. The inaccuracies were a result of a couple of different factors. Guarantano missed some throws simply because he was inaccurate, but he also missed some throws because the offensive line didn’t give him a pocket to step into as he was getting rid of the football, causing him to throw off his back-foot and sail some throws. There were also timing issues with Tennessee’s receivers, which is to be expected when you take into consideration that the Vols struggled to keep receivers on the practice field during fall camp due to contact tracing.

    There’s reason for concern with Guarantano, but there’s also reason for optimism. Sure, Guarantano missed some throws that he has to make, but he also made a couple of really nice throws. I believe you’ll see a more crisp Guarantano against Missouri next week following an extra week of working with his new group of wide receivers.

    Grade: C+

    Running Backs

    Tennessee’s running backs weren’t asked to do a ton against South Carolina, especially in the first half when they only rushed for 10 yards as a result of Jim Chaney choosing to air it out a little. But when they were asked to make a play, they did just that.

    Ty Chandler and Eric Gray combined for 126 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. The duo averaged 5.04 yards per carry. Individually, Chandler was Tennessee’s leading-rusher with 86 rushing yards on 13 carries. Gray rushed for 40 yards on 12 carries and had a 12-yard rushing touchdown to start the third quarter. Gray also looked good in pass protection.

    Grade: A

    Wide Receivers

    The wide receivers had a couple of balls hit the ground that they should have caught, but overall, life without Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway went well for the Vols in game No. 1. Tee Martin’s new-look receiver room passed the eye test and doesn’t appear to be an issue going forward.

    Senior Josh Palmer led the room with six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. Fellow senior Brandon Johnson had an incredible one-handed catch on his way to three catches for 73 yards. USC grad transfer Velus Jones Jr. got in on the action with five catches for 29 yards, and sophomore Ramel Keyton had two catches for 20 yards.

    Grade: B+

    Tight Ends

    It didn’t appear that Tennessee’s tight ends were asked to do a ton in the passing game and they didn’t have any glaring busts while blocking in the run game. Princeton Fant had a nice catch for 11-yards and was open on another route, but Guarantano couldn’t get him the ball. We also saw a good bit of Jacob Warren when Tennessee was in 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends).

    Grade: B-

    Offensive Line

    Tennessee’s offensive line wasn’t bad against South Carolina, but there’s plenty of room for improvement as the Vols shift their attention to Missouri week. Guarantano was only sacked twice, but he faced pressure on a fairly consistent basis that prevented him from stepping into some of his throws.

    Chaney was committed to the pass more than the run in the first half, but Tennessee’s offensive line didn’t necessarily open up any holes for Chandler or Gray either. The Vols were much better running the football in the second half, however. Their inconsistencies were a productive of the offensive line being hit by contact tracing during fall camp. Like Guarantano and the receivers, I expect for the offensive line to be more crisp against Mizzou as they continue to get reps in practice.

    Grade: C+

    Defensive Line

    Tennessee’s defensive line didn’t flash against South Carolina and struggled to generate a push against the run or the pass. The Vols d-line produced zero sacks, zero tackles for loss and just one hit on the quarterback courtesy of Matthew Butler. Sure, Tennessee was missing Darel Middleton due to “health issues,” but the loss of Middleton doesn’t explain the lack of production against Carolina’s offensive line.

    South Carolina threw for 290 yards and rush for 89 yards in large part because the defensive line couldn’t generate a push.

    Grade: D

    Outside linebackers

    Tennessee’s defensive line should be taking Deandre Johnson and Kivon Bennett out to eat all week long because the outside backers bailed them out. Johnson had a career day, tallying 2.5 sacks which was the most by any defender during Week 1 of the SEC 10-game season. The senior also had 2.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and six tackles. Meanwhile, Bennett had five tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks.

    Freshman Tyler Baron got in on the action as well, recording 2.0 tackles for a loss.

    Grade: A

    Inside linebackers

    Henry To’o To’o had the play of the game on defense recording his first career interception that resulted in a 32-yard pick-six to put the Vols up 14-7 in the second quarter. To’o To’o also had six tackles and a hit on the quarterback.

    Jeremy Banks and Quavaris Crouch didn’t have as well of a game. Banks had five tackles and a tackle for a loss, but had two bone-headed penalties that gave Carolina a first down and 15 free yards. Crouch struggled in pass coverage as Carolina picked on him with tight end Nick Muse, and despite starting, Banks replaced Crouch because of it.

    Grade: C+

    Defensive Backs

    Tennessee’s defensive backs did some good things here and there, but ultimately the group allowed 290 yards to a South Carolina receiver room that lacks playmakers outside of Shi Smith. Smith had a team-high 10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.

    The Vols were without Shawn Shamburger who did not make the trip to Colombia and sophomore safety Jaylen McCollough was banged up, which hurt their personnel grouping. Freshman Doneiko Slaughter had to start at nickle and though he did some good things, Smith also got the best of him at times. Bryce Thompson was forced to move to safety with McCollough not starting, which allowed Kenneth George Jr. to get the start at corner opposite of Alontae Taylor. The results from George were not good as he was benched in the second half after being beat on a couple of different plays.

    Regardless of how healthy the secondary was, Tennessee still shouldn’t have allowed 290 yards through the air to that South Carolina receiver room.

    Grade: D

    Special Teams

    It wasn’t perfect, but Tennessee’s special teams played a large role in the Vols starting off the season 1-0. Brent Cimaglia missed a 46-yard field goal when the protection up front wasn’t great and freshman Will Albright’s first career snap was a disaster, but there were more positives than negatives.

    Paxton Brooks was terrific, pinning South Carolina inside of the 20-yard line on five of his six punts. His final punt resulted in a win as it bounced up and hit a Gamecock in the leg, allowing Jimmy Holiday to fall on the fumble and secure the win. Brooks was just as good on kickoffs. Five of the six sailed through the end zone for a touchback.

    There were other positives. Cimaglia bounced back with a successful 27-yard field goal, while Velus Jones Jr. had a nice return of 40-yards on one kickoff. Albright’s first snap didn’t go according to plan, but sophomore Matthew Salansky was able to come in and snap good balls for the rest of the game. Tennessee did not have any coverage busts either.

    When you consider the fact that Tennessee barely practiced special teams during fall camp due to too many players missing as a result of contact tracing, Saturday night was a win with how the special teams performed in total.

    Grade: B+

    Coaching Staff

    A win is a win. It wasn’t the smoothest of games for Tennessee, but in this COVID season following a fall camp in which contact tracing really hampered the Vols, you happily live with the result. As we’ve come to expect with Jeremy Pruitt and his coaching staff, they made adjustments throughout the game despite a sloppy start and a blown two-score lead in the third quarter. To win on the road in the SEC given the circumstances calls for a good grade in my book.

    Grade: B+

      Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

      No. 21 Tennessee has opened as double-digit home favorites over Missouri ahead of its home-opener this Saturday.

      Tennessee (1-0) is a 13-point favorite over the Tigers according to the line released by Circa Sports at the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

      Tennessee is coming off of a 31-27 win over South Carolina on Saturday night to begin the 2020 season on the right note.

      The Vols beat South Carolina thanks to a special teams miscue by the Gamecocks. Carolina was going to get the ball back with a chance to win the game, but Paxton Brooks’ punt hit the leg of a Gamecock, allowing Vols freshman Jimmy Holiday to fall on the fumble and secure the Tennessee win.

      Jarrett Guarantano was 19-of-31 for 259 yards and a touchdown. He did not throw an interception. Guarantano’s lone touchdown pass went to Josh Palmer from 33-yards out. Palmer finished as the team’s leading-receiver, hauling in six catches for 85 yards to go along with the touchdown. Eric Gray and Ty Chandler combined for 126 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.

      Missouri is coming off of a 38-19 loss to No. 2 Alabama. Shawn Robinson, who made his first start for the Tigers, finished the game 19-for-25 with a touchdown and 185 yards. On the ground, star running back Larry Rountree rushed for 67 yards on 14 carries.

      Mizzou went 6-6 overall last season, and 3-5 in SEC play, leading to the firing of Barry Odom. Eli Drinkwitz was hired by the Tigers following one season as head coach at Appalachian State.

      Tennessee is on a seven-game winning streak dating back to last season. UT’s winning streak is tied for third-longest in the FBS, is the second-longest in the Power 5 and is the longest in the SEC. Tennessee has claimed four consecutive wins away from Neyland Stadium during the streak, as well.

      Kickoff between the Vols and Tigers on Saturday afternoon inside of Neyland Stadium is scheduled for 12 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

        Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

        Tennessee has dropped in the AP Top 25 Poll, and climbed up in the Amway Coaches Poll following its season-opening 31-27 win over South Carolina. The Vols are now ranked No. 21 in the AP Poll and No. 20 in the Coaches Poll.

        Tennessee has now been ranked in the AP Top 25 on 586 different occasions, 14th-most in all of college football.

        The Vols fell five spots in the AP Poll from No. 16. Tennessee is one of six SEC teams ranked in this week’s Poll. Jeremy Pruitt’s squad was joined by Alabama (2), Florida (3), Georgia (4), Auburn (7), Texas A&M (13), Mississippi State (16) and LSU (20).

        The Associated Press began its college football poll on Oct. 19, 1936, and it is now the longest-running poll of those that award national titles at the end of the season. The preseason poll was started in 1950. A panel of 62 sports writers and broadcasters from around the country votes on the poll weekly.

        In the Coaches Poll, Tennessee moved up one spot from No. 21. The Vols are one of eight SEC teams ranked in this week’s Coaches Poll. They were joined by Alabama (2), Florida (3), Georgia (4), Auburn (7), Texas A&M (13), Mississippi State (14) and LSU (17).

        The Amway Coaches Poll powered by USA TODAY Sports is conducted weekly throughout the regular season using a panel of head coaches at FBS schools. The panel is chosen by random draw, conference by conference plus independents, from a pool of coaches who have indicated to the American Football Coaches Association their willingness to participate. Each coach submits a Top 25 with a first-place vote worth 25 points, second place 24, and so on down to one point for 25th.

        Tennessee now returns to Neyland Stadium this upcoming Saturday following its season-opening win over South Carolina for its home-opener against Missouri. The Tigers (0-1) began their season on Saturday night with a 38-19 loss to No. 2 Alabama.

          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.

            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 our winners and losers from Tennessee’s season-opening win over South Carolina.

            Winners: Deandre Johnson and Kivon Bennett

            Redshirt junior linebacker Kivon Bennett made his first career start against the Gamecocks and made the most of it tying a career-high with five tackles. Bennett also had a hit on the quarterback,  0.5 a tackle for a loss and 0.5 a sack.

            Bennett wasn’t the only outside linebacker to have a career night. Fellow starting outside linebacker, senior Deandre Johnson, posted a career-high with six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Johnson also forced a fumble at the end of the first half.

            The emergence of Johnson is critical to a Tennessee defense looking to replace the production lost by Darrell Taylor. If Johnson and Bennett can consistently meet in the backfield, one of Tennessee’s biggest question marks entering 2020 will be put to rest.

            Loser: Tennessee’s secondary

            South Carolina starting quarterback Collin Hill threw for 290 yards against the Vols secondary. Yes, the secondary was depleted due to injury. Starting nickle Shawn Shamburger didn’t make the trip due to injury and starting safety Jaylen McCollough didn’t start after being banged up throughout the week in practice. As a result of the injuries, Bryce Thompson had to slide over to safety, freshman Doneiko Slaughter started at nickle in his first career game and backup Kenneth George Jr. started at corner opposite of Alontae Taylor.

            The starting lineup didn’t make it throughout the game. George struggled and was benched for McCollough who ultimately entered the game at safety in the second half. This allowed Thompson to slide back over to corner where he’s best at, though he performed well at safety.

            Tennessee’s secondary improved a tad after the personnel adjustment, but allowing 290 passing yards to a South Carolina offense that lacks playmakers outside of Shi Smith is unacceptable. Smith had a career day hauling in 10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.

            Winners: Ty Chandler and Eric Gray

            Ty Chandler and Eric Gray were already solid running backs. Now they’re really good running backs. To the naked eye, you can already see the difference that first-year running backs coach Jay Graham has made with the duo, especially Chandler.

            The duo combined to rush for 126 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. They added two catches for 41 yards. Individually, Chandler was the leading rusher respectively with 86 yards on 13 carries. Gray rushed for 40 yards on 12 carries, but rushed for a 12-yard touchdown in which he broke three tackles. Gray’s third-quarter touchdown run was the fifth of his career and marked his third straight game with a rushing touchdown dating back to last season.

            Loser: Tennessee’s inside linebackers in pass coverage

            Tennessee’s secondary struggled in coverage, but they weren’t the only ones that struggled. The Vols’ inside linebackers also struggled against the pass. Sophomore Quavaris Crouch was beaten multiple times when matched up with Carolina tight end Nick Muse in coverage. Crouch was beaten twice on one drive and benched in favor for fellow sophomore Jeremy Banks. Even Henry To’o To’o was beaten in coverage. Muse had four catches for 50 yards and should have had more if Hill didn’t miss him on a couple of throws over the middle of the field.

            Banks’ two bone-headed penalties weren’t ideal either. He was called for a late hit out of bounds and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he ripped off the helmet of a South Carolina offensive lineman.

            Winner: Henry To’o To’o

            Though To’o To’o was beaten a time or two in coverage, the heart-and-soul of the defense made the play of the game for the Vols. To’o To’o played well overall tallying six tackles, a hit on the quarterback, and picking off his first career pass and returning it 32-yards for a touchdown. The pick-six gave the Vols a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.

            Loser: Tennessee’s third down offense … and third down defense

            Tennessee’s offense was only able to put up 24 points outside of To’o To’o’s pick-six in the second quarter. One of the reasons for the lack of success on offense is because of how successful the Vols were on third down. Frankly, there was no success.

            The Vols ended the game 1-for-11 on third down. Defensively, they allowed South Carolina to convert 6-of-15 third downs, nearly 50 percent. If Tennessee is going to have a strong 2020 campaign, it must be more successful on third down. You simply can’t win in the SEC if you’re not sustaining drives on offense and not getting off the field on defense.

            Winner: Tennessee’s special teams

            Special teams wasn’t 100 percent perfect, but it was successful in the win over South Carolina. Brent Cimaglia missed a rare kick from 46-yards out with the protection up front failing him, but bounced back with a 27-yard field goal the very next possession.

            Freshman Will Albright also had a poor snap that led to Carolina having great field position in the first quarter. But when you consider the fact that Tennessee was unable to truly practice special teams throughout fall camp due to players being out because of contact tracing, you should be willing to give some grace.

            Paxton Brooks was the MVP of Tennessee’s special teams unit. Brooks punted the ball six times and averaged 40.1 yards per punt, but downed five of his six punts inside of the 20-yard line, and had a long of 51-yards. On kickoffs, five of Brooks’ six kicks sailed through the end zone for touchbacks.

            Brooks’ last punt ended up closing out the game for the Vols. The punt, which would have pinned Carolina inside of the 20 once again, hit the leg of a Gamecock and freshman Jimmy Holiday was able to jump on the fumble.

            Loser: Tennessee’s late-game execution

            Holiday’s fumble recovery bailed Tennessee’s offense out. The Vols had the chance to put the game away on offense twice late in the fourth quarter and failed to do so twice.

            Tennessee got the ball back leading 31-24 with 8:06 remaining in the game on the 50-yard line due to a bad South Carolina punt. A beautiful chance to bleed the clock, score and put the game away. The Vols squandered the opportunity, going three out because of a Ramel Keyton drop on second down and a high throw from Jarrett Guarantano on third down.

            South Carolina ended up driving down the field and kicking a field goal on the following possession. The Vols once again got the football back with a chance to put the game away by picking up a couple of first downs and bleeding the clock. This time, they got the ball back on their own 25-yard line with 3:36 remaining in the game.

            Ty Chandler had a couple of nice runs to begin the drive, picking up a first down and forcing South Carolina to use two of its three timeouts. But then Riley Locklear committed a false start that stalled the drive. The Vols got backed up and were forced to punt the ball away with 1:30 remaining. Lucky for Tennessee, the punt hit the leg of a Carolina player causing a fumble.

            If Tennessee truly wants to be a good football team this year and exceed expectations it must put games away when given the chance.

              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 our five biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s season-opening win over South Carolina.

              New year, same No. 2

              It wasn’t as bad against South Carolina for Jarrett Guarantano as it was at times during last season. But it was the same Jarrett Guarantano that struggled to be consistent last season. Much like his 2019 season, Guarantano’s performance against the Gamecocks was up-and-down.

              “Inconsistent,” Pruitt said of Guarantano’s performance following the game. “His decision-making was good. I think there were a couple times, maybe, he was confused a little bit.

              “I know he would like to have some throws back. He was high on some throws.”

              The Vols starting quarterback finished the game 19-of-31 for 259 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, Guarantano didn’t turn the football over. He threw some pretty balls, specifically the 32-yard touchdown to Josh Palmer in the fourth quarter that proved to be the difference in the game.

              But he also made some really poor throws. In the first half, Guarantano started off 8-for-9 before finishing the half 1-for-6. The Vols led 14-7 at the break although they likely would have been up multiple scores if it weren’t for missed throws by Guarantano. In the second half, the theme continued. Missed throws that ended drives on a dime, but then spirals that led to scores.

              “I felt like I was leaning back on some throws,” Guarantano said after the win. “There’s a lot of work to get done with myself and the team, but especially me, I thought I could be a lot better. It’s only up from here. I’m going to go practice my behind off this week and try to fix some of the things. I was high on a little bit of throws falling off, pretending and just seeing like I was going to get hit, but that’s not how I play ball and I just have to go fix those things.

              “There’s a lot of room to grow and I’m excited for the future, but I’m happy that we got this win tonight.”

              Guarantano has to find a way to play more consistently if Tennessee is going to take the next step this season. Looking at the glass-half-full perspective, the wide receiver group was devastated by contact tracing throughout camp, which has resulted in poor timing on throws. Looking at it from the glass-half-empty perspective, Mr. Inconsistent is still Mr. Inconsistent.

              Vols have one of SEC’s best running back duos

              Ty Chandler and Eric Gray were already solid running backs. Now they’re really good running backs. To the naked eye, you can already see the difference that first-year running backs coach Jay Graham has made with the duo, especially Chandler.

              Tennessee only rushed for 10 yards in the first half, mainly because there wasn’t a concerted effort to run the ball with UT wide receivers running wide open in the South Carolina secondary. But when there was a concerted effort to get the ball to Chandler and Gray in the second half, the production followed.

              The duo combined to rush for 126 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. They added two catches for 41 yards. Individually, Chandler was the leading rusher respectively with 86 yards on 13 carries. Gray rushed for 40 yards on 12 carries, but rushed for a 12-yard touchdown in which he broke three tackles. Gray’s third-quarter touchdown run was the fifth of his career and marked his third straight game with a rushing touchdown dating back to last season.

              Johnson and Bennett step up

              Redshirt junior linebacker Kivon Bennett made his first career start against the Gamecocks and made the most of it tying a career-high with five tackles. Bennett also had a hit on the quarterback,  0.5 a tackle for a loss and 0.5 a sack.

              Bennett wasn’t the only outside linebacker to have a career night. Fellow starting outside linebacker, senior Deandre Johnson, posted a career-high with six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Johnson also forced a fumble at the end of the first half.

              “Deandre over the last, really the last year, you really see a young man that is maturing,” Pruitt said. “Not only on the field, but off the field. He wanted to come back and move back into the dorm for his last year. It’s his third year in the system, so he knows what to do, he’s a smart guy.

              “He’s a competitor. He plays with confidence. I don’t know what kind of numbers he had tonight but it seemed like he was in on a lot of plays. You know, he’s got a lot of really good football ahead of him.”

              The emergence of Johnson is critical to a Tennessee defense looking to replace the production lost by Darrell Taylor. If Johnson and Bennett can consistently meet in the backfield, one of Tennessee’s biggest question marks entering 2020 will be put to rest.

              Third down struggles

              Tennessee’s offense was only able to put up 24 points outside of Henry To’o To’o’s pick-six in the second quarter. One of the reasons for the lack of success on offense is because of how successful the Vols were on third down. Frankly, there was no success.

              The Vols ended the game 1-for-11 on third down. Defensively, they allowed South Carolina to convert 6-of-15 third downs, nearly 50 percent. If Tennessee is going to have a strong 2020 campaign, it must be more successful on third down. You simply can’t win in the SEC if you’re not sustaining drives on offense and not getting off the field on defense.

              A win is a win

              At the end of the day a win is a win.

              Is there a lot to work on and correct? Absolutely. But there’s also plenty of positives to take away. It’s better to have lessons to learn from in a win than in a loss. Pruitt-led teams make adjustments throughout games and throughout the season. They’ll get back to the drawing board and continue to get better.

              Tennessee was unable to have a true training camp because so many players missed playing time due to contact tracing. The fact that the Vols are 1-0 to start the season despite being held back during fall camp speaks to this team’s potential.

              Up Next

              Tennessee now turns its attention to Missouri for its home-opener next Saturday inside of Neyland Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. The Tigers lost their opening game to No. 2 Alabama 38-19.

              “We’re going to celebrate and go back and fix what we can fix tomorrow,” Pruitt said. “Take Monday off and go to work on Missouri on Tuesday.”