Rapid Reaction: Tennessee continues offensive fireworks, steamrolls Gamecocks
Another week, another game of offensive fireworks for Tennessee.
For the second straight week, Tennessee put up 28 points in the first quarter, as the Vols routed an overwhelmed and overmatched South Carolina team and coasted to a 45-20 victory. The Vols, wearing their special “dark mode” black uniforms complete with a black outline on the helmet’s block T, continued their unbelievable pace, as they scored on 14 of their previous 15 possessions, with 12 touchdowns, and by early in the second quarter, the Vols averaged 9 yards per play.
By halftime, the Vols were 8-for-9 on third down, and racked up 373 yards, including 156 rushing, as they took advantage of 2 South Carolina turnovers with touchdowns on the ensuing drives to build a 38-7 lead. The Gamecocks simply couldn’t have played a much worse first half.
The offensive explosion came against a South Carolina defense that had played pretty well to start the season, and was arguably the best part of the Gamecocks’ start to the season. The Gamecocks’ defense was No. 26 in the country in total defense, and No. 3 in the nation in interceptions with 9 in 5 games.
Yet Tennessee shredded those numbers, and did it in a variety of ways. The Vols had 2 scoring drives that went for at least 11 plays, and covered at least 64 yards. And it started early.
For South Carolina, the first quarter was a slew of miscues and other problems. There was an ill-advised play call that led to an interception near the goal line, and later, a fumble. The interception ended a promising long drive of 10 plays and 73 yards. As things snowballed on the Gamecocks, Tennessee immediately went 80 yards in 5 plays for an easy touchdown.
The Gamecocks had some glimmer of hope in the second half led by a surprising fake punt that resulted in a touchdown pass from Kai Kroeger to Payton Mangrum that went for 44 yards. They later forced a punt, and inched closer thanks to a fourth down touchdown by Kevin Harris, his second of the game that capped another long drive, which was 15 plays for 80 yards.
South Carolina shuffled its offensive line in the second half, and replaced 3 starters as the coaching staff also got QB Luke Doty on the move more on roll outs that showed improvement. The defense also recovered, and by midway through the fourth quarter, the defense had 6 sacks.
Ultimately, South Carolina didn’t convert a late two-point conversion, then had a possession that ended on downs, and a tack-on score by the Vols proved to be the difference.
UT has now won 3 straight in the series, and the Vols are now 18-3 all-time against South Carolina in Knoxville.
QB Hendon Hooker delivered another efficient performance, as he started 15-for-20 passing by halftime for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Hendon Hooker has now thrown 12 TD passes already this year.
He never had more than 13 in a season at VT.
He has 5 in his last 28 passes.
VT has 5 this season total.
— 💫🅰️♈️🆔 (@ADavidHaleJoint) October 9, 2021
Hooker came into Saturday with multiple touchdown passes in 4 straight games for the first time in his career, and overall threw 10 touchdown passes and just one interception during that span. He extended that streak with 6:46 remaining in the first quarter.
He’s the first UT quarterback to throw multiple touchdown passes in 4 straight games since Joshua Dobbs did it from in 2016. In Hooker’s previous 3 starts this season, Tennessee was 2-1 while the offense has averaged 44 points per game and 507.7 yards per game. He built on that and then some on Saturday.
Tiyon Evans put up another huge game, as he had 10 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown by halftime, while Velus Jones Jr. made 5 catches for 104 yards and a score.
Tennessee moves on to begin its gauntlet part of the schedule as the next 4 opponents have a combined record of 18-1. South Carolina, meanwhile, will meet Vanderbilt next week in Williams-Brice Stadium as it looks to inch closer to bowl eligibility.