Rapid Reaction: Tennessee survives South Carolina scare, wins 27-24
Here are some quick thoughts on Tennessee’s 27-24 win over South Carolina in Knoxville.
What it means: Tennessee moves above .500 for the first time since Week 3. Butch Jones’ squad has won two in a row and three of their last four. With a favorable schedule, Tennessee can finish strong and should be targeting second place in the SEC East as its goal. The loss drops South Carolina to 3-6 (1-6 SEC), but the Gamecocks are proving that they’re not going to simply roll-over for teams.
What I liked about Tennessee: Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs was in command on third downs, as Tennessee converted nine times. Dobbs, a dangerous runner, was poised in the passing game, finishing with 255 yards and two touchdowns. The surprise of the game for the Vols was the big game by wide receiver Von Pearson, who caught passes for a career-high 121 yards and his first touchdown since last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl win over Iowa. Tennessee has been desperate for a wide receiver to consistently step up. Perhaps the senior from Newport News, Va., can close out his career with a strong final four games.
What I liked about South Carolina: Shawn Elliott and the Gamecock offense wasn’t afraid to mix it up with some gadgetry such flea-flickers and linebackers catching touchdown passes (Jonathan Walton, 10-yard TD). Defensively, South Carolina was able shut down Tennessee on the ground in the second half, forcing three fumbles and limiting the Vols’ vaunted run game to 155 total yards.
What I didn’t about like about Tennessee: Brian Randolph’s brutal targeting penalty on Pharoh Cooper is up there among things we never like to see. The junior defensive back will miss the first half of Tennessee’s next game courtesy of his ejection. Tennessee’s running game dissipated in the second half. Jalen Hurd was mostly a non-factor through the first three quarters. Hurd finished with 87 yards, but Tennessee’s lack of a ground game allowed South Carolina to make it a close contest. Other than that, the game was also marred by some chippy play, including ejections and unsportsmanlike conduct. The most distressing thing for Tennessee has to be the fact that the Volunteer have now blown four leads of at least 14 points in the second half this year.
What I didn’t like about South Carolina: South Carolina’s running game, which had been revitalized under Shawn Elliott, struggled and gained 152 total yards, led by Brandon Wilds with 79 yards. It was Wilds, however, who dropped a pass that he would likely have taken in for the game-winning score on the Gamecocks’ final drive. The worst, however, was Jerell Adams’ fumble that ended the game. Adams catch had South Carolina within an easy chip shot of an easy game-tying field goal.
Who’s the man: Or in this case, men. The Tennessee front four on defense had their way on the inside, preventing South Carolina from running inside the tackles. Tennessee picked up 7 tackles-for-loss in the first half alone on a Gamecocks offensive line that averaged 5.13 per game. The foursome of Derek Barnett, Corey Vereen, Kendal Vickers and Owen Williams held South Carolina held Brandon Wilds below 100 yards for the first time in three games. The unit bent in the second half, but Williams and friends came up with some big stops late to preserve the win.
Key play: South Carolina’s Phillip Dukes forced Alvin Kamara to cough up the ball with a little less than nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, which was recovered on the Tennessee 22-yard line by teammate T.J. Holloman with the Gamecocks trailing 17-10. Compounding matters was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on Volunteer offensive lineman Dylan Wiesman, setting up quarterback Perry Orth and the Gamecocks with a first-and-goal on the Vols’ 7-yard line. Orth (eventually) capitalized, hitting tight end Jerell Adams for the game-tying touchdown on fourth-and-goal. Tennessee and South Carolina then traded scores, but it was the turnover that changed the complexion of this game.
What’s next: Tennessee (5-4, 3-3 SEC) has a chance to close the season out with a strong finish, thanks to winnable games against North Texas, Missouri and Vanderbilt. The good news for South Carolina (3-6, 1-6) is that the Gamecocks round-out the 2015 campaign with three home games. The bad news is that those tilts are against No. 11 Florida, The Citadel and No. 3 Clemson.