Vols take the wheel, nearly drive off a cliff: Tennessee Volunteers 27, South Carolina Gamecocks 24

Well, how was your Saturday? Mine was just lovely, thank you very much. It began with perfect autumn weather and a wistful hope for SMQ's Scenario Four: where Tennessee not only beats Steve Spurrier, but Georgia also beats Florida.

Well, we got that plus a little something. Call it Scenario 4A, where not only do both of those things happen, but SMQ's given (that Mississippi State would lose to Kentucky) also gives up the ghost. First, Sylvester's Bulldogs Croom the 'Cats. Marvelous. Then, Richt's Bulldogs end the game against Florida ahead in both personal fouls and points and essentially eject the Gators from the driver's seat in the SEC East. Outstanding.

The Volunteers then happily took the wheel and joy-rode to a 21-0 halftime lead over Steve Spurrier. That was when things got really interesting. But I'm getting ahead of myself (we do that from time to time). First, the animation:

Full screen version.

Crazy. Not only did David Cutcliffe dominate the Gamecocks' defense for the first 30 minutes, but John Chavis bested Spurrier, shutting him out during the first half and extending the longest touchdown drought in Spurrier's history to eight quarters. Yes, the pre-intermission saga can be properly characterized as opportunistic, with two touchdowns resulting from excellent field position due to Steve Spurrier turnovers. But hey, we got it in the end zone, right?

Right. But if there's one thing we've learned about the Volunteers over the years, it's that we don't do well with the wheel in our hands. In the second half, Erik Ainge went cold. We couldn't (or didn't try to) run the ball. Sixty-two total yards of offense in the second half? Are you kidding me? And the defense. Oy. It was like we were navigating by the rear view mirror -- everything was backwards.

After the Gamecocks' three second-half touchdowns, the wheels came off for both teams. We went nowhere and punted. They drove 65 yards . . . and fumbled. We threw an interception. They threw an interception. And when we drove -- okay, pushed the heap of junk -- four yards and punted, they kicked the go-ahead field goal on the next series.

Game over, man. They'd scored 24 unanswered points. We couldn't stop them and our offense couldn't get anything going in 29 minutes of the second half, so there was very little hope that we'd be able to do anything with the last 71 seconds. Luckily, LaMarcus Coker grabbed the wheel and reversed both field and course, running the kickoff back to the 47 yard line and injecting a little bit of fuel into the offense.

Ainge began the drive by completing two consecutive passes to Chris Brown for a total of nine yards. On third and one, outside of Daniel Lincoln's field goal range, Ainge handed off to Arian Foster. Foster had been flirting with fumbles all game by swinging the ball through the air like it was a track and field hammer, and he chose this time to let one fly. The ball bounced down field at the feet of two Steve Spurrier defenders and by sheer fate and hustle, offensive lineman Jacques McClendon fell on the thing 18 yards from the scrimmage line. You know the feeling when you're driving while drowsy and jarred awake by the warning grooves on the shoulder? I will forever remember big Jacques as a warning groove. A slightly novel approach to a first down, but I'll take it.

Foster then found the bench, and Ainge found Austin Rogers for another nine yards. On the next play, Ainge was -- gasp! -- sacked for only the second time this season, and he almost fumbled the ball in the process. After an incomplete pass, it was up to Daniel Lincoln from the 31 with only seconds left and the Vols down by three.

Lincoln nodded the go ahead to the holder, who gave the all-go to the long-snapper. Movement. Snap. Place. Thud. Hook. Miss. Flag.

False start on the offense. Best penalty of the year and collective sigh of relief from 100,000+. Back up five and try again.

Snap. Place. Thud. Good. Overtime.

South Carolina won the toss and elected to play defense first. We drove about 15 yards and then stalled. Lincoln. Snap. Place. Thud. Good.

And Great Jumping Frenchmen of Maine, our defense held the Gamecocks and forced a field goal attempt. Snap. Place. Thud. Miss. Game.

Game. Game. Game. Scenario 4A, the Trifecta. Back in the driver's seat. Back behind the wheel. Flirting with, but avoiding the cliff.

Charts

Um, we should not have won this game, and I fully expect to be featured in this week's episode of Life on the Margins. Witnesseth:

Yikes. That would be nearly twice as many first downs, 31-16, to be exact. They had 20 first downs just passing the ball. Moving on.

Uh, okay. Steve Spurrier had more yards passing than Tennessee had. Total. Next.

Okay, then. Outplayed at home.

But a win is a win is a win. And regardless of where we're headed, we got the wheel.

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