Rapid reaction: Tennessee extends winning streak with narrow escape at South Carolina
Despite its sub-par effort on third down, Tennessee pulled out a win at South Carolina.
The Vols were just 1-for-9 on third down conversions, but they got enough in the second half, and held South Carolina to a pair of field goals as seemingly promising drives stalled in the red zone.
At times, it appeared bleak, but Tennessee extended its winning streak to seven games. South Carolina saw the debut of QB Collin Hill find regular connection with Shi Smith, who had 10 catches for 145 yards and a TD. But the Gamecocks could not develop much offensive rhythm.
South Carolina held Tennessee near midfield with 1:33 left in the game. But on the Tennessee soccer-style punt, South Carolina’s Cam Smith allowed the ball to brush his back leg, and punt returner Jammie Robinson couldn’t return it as the Vols recovered. The Vols held on for their seventh straight win with a big sigh of relief and a 31-27 victory.
The second half became a punch-counterpunch affair, and Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano delivered a big throw down the sideline for a 32-yard Josh Palmer touchdown against Cam Smith with 9:35 left in the third quarter. That was a quick answer through a four-play, 75-yard drive after South Carolina had a seemingly dominant drive sputter in field goal range. The Gamecocks played much of the second half of the game without CB Israel Mukuamu, who was on the bench without his helmet.
To open the game, South Carolina had a strong start with 75 yards on its opening drive for a score, but the next two possessions totaled zero yards and two punts. In that span, Tennessee grabbed momentum thanks to a 90-yard drive in seven plays to tie the game. Guarantano capped it with a 1-yard QB sneak.
The Vols poured it on when LB Henry To’o To’o picked off a deflection of a pass from Hill, who narrowly avoided a sack, and scored from 32 yards out.
Tennessee probably should have been up by more than seven points at halftime, after the Gamecocks had just 125 yards of total offense, and 75 came on first drive. South Carolina averaged 3.29 per play, 1.4 per rush.
Neither team’s offensive line got much push, but Tennessee’s mustered just 10 rushing yards by halftime on 12 carries. The Vols were also just 1-for-5 on third down attempts, a sign of things to come.
Both teams came out firing in the second half, and South Carolina WR Shi Smith continued his strong play against the Vols. Smith had 11 catches for 156 yards against the Vols last season, and scored on a 29-yard touchdown pass early in the second half to give him eight catches for 113 yards. Hill also had a 42-yard pass to Xavier Legette on that drive.
That answered a run-dominated strong Tennessee drive mostly up the middle and had 64 yards on the ground including a 19 yard run by Guarantano on that sequence alone. South Carolina appeared to get the momentum back when Tennessee K Brent Cimaglia missed a 47-yard FG attempt wide left.
South Carolina’s third-string RB Deshaun Fenwick made a splash in the passing game in the third quarter, with back-to-back catches for 26 yards to set up a Hill 1-yard TD to tie the game.
South Carolina returns to action next week with Florida, while Tennessee will play Missouri.