Rapid reaction: Lackluster South Carolina edges Tennessee in what could be final straw for Butch Jones
The teams entered Saturday appearing to be headed in opposite directions.
But Tennessee began the game with possibly its most inspired effort of the season behind quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, a redshirt freshman, who made his first career start as Tennessee looked to jumpstart an offense that had scored a total of three points over its last six quarters.
While the Tennessee offense showed brief flashes of momentum, the Vols couldn’t sustain much. With less than five minutes left in the game, Guarantano was sacked by Dante Sawyer and nearly fumbled on a play that lost 12 yards. That left Tennessee with negative seven yards of offense in the second half.
But with 49 seconds remaining, Guarantano hit Marquez Callaway with a 17-yard pass to the South Carolina 22-yard line. Then at the goal line, South Carolina’s Rashad Fenton was called for pass interference, and after an incomplete pass, Tennessee had a chance with four seconds left from the two yard line. The next pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage, and with one second left, Guarantano pass toward Brandon Johnson fell incomplete and the Vols fell 15-9.
While the Vols largely controlled the game early, they couldn’t pull away and settled for three field goals to take a 9-3 lead at halftime. There was somewhat of a silver lining as it was the first time all season Tennessee led in regulation against a Power 5 opponent. Backup kicker Brent Cimaglia, filling in for start Aaron Medley, who was out with an illness, was a regular contributor.
The Vols fell to 3-3 and 0-3 in the SEC. South Carolina improved to 5-2 and 3-2.
It was difficult to believe South Carolina kicker Parker White entered the game 4-for-11 in field goal kicking this season. But his 21-yard kick with 5:17 remaining gave the Gamecocks a 12-9 lead to cap a 16-play drive.
That followed a rare burst of offense when South Carolina’s A.J. Turner scored on a 20-yard run to cap 95-yard TD drive. But a botched extra point attempt left the game at 9-9 with 1:02 in the third quarter.
Throughout the game, it was a slugfest where neither offense could find much traction and, more often than not, settled for a field goal attempt. The Gamecocks lost running back Rico Dowdle to a left ankle injury early in the game. He was out of his uniform and in street clothes on the bench in the second half.
With less than seven minutes left in the third quarter, the teams each had less than 70 yards passing for the game. South Carolina converted a third down conversion on a Jake Bentley run late in the third quarter. The Gamecocks started the game 0-for-6 in that department.
Tennessee, which didn’t punt until the second quarter, had no trouble moving the ball early behind running back John Kelly, who rushed for 46 yards in the first quarter alone. Kelly entered the game rushing for 98.8 yards per game, which was second in the SEC. The South Carolina defense limited Arkansas to 106 yards rushing on 32 carries. Kelly only managed 58 yards for the game.
South Carolina, meanwhile, needed until late in the first half to eclipse 100 yards of total offense. One bright spot was White, who made a 47-yard field goal early in the second quarter, the first time all season he’s made a kick of more than 40 yards. White was previously 0-for-7 outside of 40 yards.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who coached Florida from 2011-14, improved to 4-0 against Jones, and 6-0 against the Vols overall.