What a dreadful season for Tennessee football fans. 2013 was Butch Jones’ first season at the helm and boy, did Derek Dooley ever leave him with a mess of a roster. There was no offensive line, which just utterly destroyed the offensive attack for most of the year.
But Tennessee fans had one shining moment in 2013 — that weird, ugly game where the Vols pulled the upset over the 11th ranked Gamecocks.
Butch Jones really needed this one. The Vols started off 2-0 after a couple of cupcake wins, but were blown out by Oregon and handled by Florida. A heartbreaking overtime loss to 6th ranked Georgia pretty much doomed the rest of the season with four straight top 11 opponents next on the schedule.
Butch was sitting at 3-3, staring 3-7 right in the face with South Carolina, Alabama, Missouri and Auburn up next. He had to knock off one of those teams to stabilize the program. Had to.
It just so happened that South Carolina was that game. For that Saturday, Tennessee fans forgot about the daunting schedule in front of them and their lacking roster. Big time football was back in Knoxville — finally. This game would end up changing the national picture.
Behind the arm of Justin Worley — who ran for his life all day long — Tennessee took an early lead. The Vols came out hot, putting together two 60+ yard drives for touchdowns coming from Pig Howard and Rajion Neal.
A 17-7 lead at halftime didn’t feel safe at all, however. Spurrier’s Gamecocks owned the 3rd quarter, recapturing the lead with two touchdowns to bring it back to 21-17.
Tennessee stopped the bleeding with a Michael Palardy field goal to cut South Carolina’s lead to just one point.
The Vols stood tall on defense and gave their offense one final chance at the end of the 4th quarter. Justin Worley was faced with a key 3rd and 10 situation and was forced to fling up a prayer. Tennessee’s stud freshman receiver Marquez North made one of the biggest plays of the decade for the Volunteers.
The play not only gave Tennessee a fresh set of downs, but it completely flipped the field and gave Tennessee new life. From that point on, you just kind of knew that this upset was going to happen.
Marlin Lane took over from there, running the ball down the the two yard line, setting up Michael Palardy for a chance to win. Palardy put it through, giving Butch Jones his first signature win at Tennessee.
If not for that one handed answered prayer from North, Tennessee finishes that season 4-8. You have to go all the way back to 1977 to find the last four win season for the Vols.
Tennessee would go on to get blown out in three consecutive weeks by Alabama, Missouri and Auburn. They followed that up with a loss to Vanderbilt, but beat Kentucky to get that 5th win.
In the grand scheme of things this game didn’t mean much to Tennessee, but it actually ended up ruining South Carolina’s chance at a national title. If they had won this game, their only blemish would have been a week two loss to Georgia. It would have been the Gamecocks taking on Auburn for the SEC title in Atlanta instead of Missouri.
At 11-1, Steve Spurrier and South Carolina would have been one win away from a likely National Championship appearance, but the unlikely trio of Marquez North, Michael Palardy and Justin Worley took them down in Knoxville.