SIGNED, BUTCH JONES

Joe Robbins

Tennessee finally finds the signature win they needed in a thrilling 23-21 victory over #11 South Carolina.

In 2009, Tennessee beat a #22 South Carolina squad on Hallloween night - the last win against a ranked opponent for the Volunteers until today.  After a heart-wrenching loss to LSU in 2010, a loss that inspired the "Dooley Rule" in the Music City Bowl of the same year, a 6-7 and two 5-7 seasons, and an overtime fumble against Georgia two weeks ago, Tennessee finally has the complete victory, bookending their dry spell with wins in Neyland against the Gamecocks.

The game was every bit as close as it should be to end such a bad streak.  In the first half, field position dictated the story: South Carolina was almost always buried deep within their own 20 yard line while Tennessee enjoyed midfield starting positions.  A pass to Pig Howard for 12 yards, coupled with a personal foul allowed Tennessee to open scoring with a field goal.  South Carolina responded with a 76 yard pass to Byrd to start the second quarter and take the lead 7-3.  But as has been the personality of the team this year, Tennessee answered right back with a touchdown drive of their own, both running and passing effectively to set up a touchdown pass to Howard.  They then forced a three-and-out by South Carolina and continued to wear down the Gamecock defense, setting up a walk-in 5 yard touchdown run by Rajion Neal.

But as is the story with Spurrier, the second half brought massive changes to the South Carolina plan of attack.  A previously conservative offensive strategy gave way to a more wide-open game, and Connor Shaw found room to run for several key first downs to keep drives alive.  A couple of touchdowns later, and South Carolina ended the third quarter with a 21-17 lead over Tennessee. The Vols could not find any offensive rhythm in the quarter of nightmares.

Unlike last year, Tennessee didn't roll over.  The fourth quarter was hardly one of legend, but the Volunteers fought hard on both sides of the ball, clamping down on the South Carolina quarterback scrambles and finding enough - just enough - defense to force a three and out, and enough offense to muster another field goal and bring the score to 21-20.  And then the "break" happened - or seemed to happen.

A three and out by South Carolina would give the Vols life.

On a 4th down punt from the end zone, Carolina shanked the ball to the 35 yard line - the edge of Palardy's kicking range.  Instead of gaining the yardage necessary to at least attempt a field goal, however, the Vols were guilty of a personal foul (hands to the face by Richardson, who had a bad game by his standards) and later conceded a sack to force a punt with just 5:44 left in the game.

But another three and out by South Carolina would give the Vols life.

Yet Tennessee still couldn't clear the hurdle.  A promising 7 yard pass to Neal started the drive, but a 1 yard loss on the next play and an incompletion caused Butch Jone to decide on the punt instead of a 4th down attempt.

But another three and out by South Carolina would give the Vols life.

Spurrier ended up burning two timeouts trying to catch the Vols in a defensive misalignment, but unlike the 2010 game against LSU, the Vols defense was on the right page.  11 players were on the field and properly lined up for both aborted 4th down attempts, forcing Spurrier to settle on the punt at the cost of two precious timeouts.

Without timeouts and only 2:48 left, Tennessee started at their own 35 yard line.  Two ugly incompletions gave little reason to believe, but then Marquez North came up with the play of the game - a one-handed 39 yard catch with a defender draped on him - to bring the Vols to the edge of field goal range.  From there, it was rushing all the way to the two yard line.  With three seconds left on the clock, Palardy nailed the chip shot field goal.

Game Over.  23-21 Tennessee wins.  And perhaps it's best to leave it at that.

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