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Final Grades: Tennessee Volunteers vs South Carolina Gamecocks

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A tough loss that showed some signs of encouragement

NCAA Football: Tennessee at South Carolina
Marquez Callaway made a ton of plays Saturday
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a Tennessee Volunteers fan then you probably still haven’t decided how you feel about Saturday’s loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks.

In all, it can be used as a major learning opportunity for a young team that continues to improve each week.

But that doesn’t mean the loss doesn’t sting. The Vols led the entire game until the Gamecocks took the lead with 5:52 left in the fourth quarter.

Let’s dive into this week’s grades.

Offense

The offense did so many good things on Saturday, even with the loss of left tackle Trey Smith. Jarrett Guarantano still took some big hits and there were still some issues with run blocking, but overall it was a very good evening for the unit as a whole.

Guarantano threw for over 200 yards and the team ran for over 150. They were able to put 24 points on the board and didn’t turn the ball over once.

What was even more impressive was the third-down offense. South Carolina came into the game with the fourth-best defense in third down situations, but the Vols went 11-of-16 (68%) on the money down.

The first drive of the second quarter was a thing of beauty. A 15-play, 71-yard drive had Tennessee looking like the Vols of the past as they chewed up almost eight minutes of clock.

They allowed just one sack and were perfect in red zone scoring. An excellent mix of quick passes, zone runs, and protection had the offense rolling for the majority of the game.

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, however, it was a different scene. The Vols had just one drive netting 22 total yards and the offense was essentially phased out of the game.

That’s not really their fault. It’s more a reflection of a poor defensive performance. What really killed the offense were the extraneous amount of pre-snap penalties that occurred consistently throughout the game.

Six penalties in that fashion will hold you back no matter what. The Vols have to become more disciplined in that area. Otherwise, it was almost a near-perfect game for the offense.

Final Grade: 3.0 (B)

Defense

This was probably the worst defensive effort of the season.

Outside of Shy Tuttle, no one else came to play for Jeremy Pruitt on Saturday and it showed. The unit played pretty well during the first half, but things changed drastically after halftime.

South Carolina was able to use quick-tempo and no-huddle offense to continuously throw the Vols off-guard and it worked very well.

After giving up nine points and 172 total yards on the first five drives, the Vols gave up 198 total yards and 18 points on just three drives in the second half.

It wasn’t like the defense was tired, either. Tennessee held the ball for over 38 minutes, with 21:17 of those minutes coming in the second half.

Poor execution and honestly, a poor defensive game plan were the main detractors on the evening. Up-tempo offense by South Carolina really gashed the Vols as they never really found an answer in that regard.

There was a very bad no-call that wasn’t even challenged that could’ve changed the momentum of the game that’s worth mentioning. I’ll let you watch the replay below and decide for yourself on whether or not it was a fumble with a UT recovery.

Regardless, you have to play the game according to how it’s called and the Vols couldn’t get a stop on the next play, nor for pretty much the whole game.

Final Grade: 1.5 (D)

Special Teams

Tuttle blocked an extra point, there were no onside kicks, and no returns for touchdowns. It was a very good day for this unit.

Joe Doyle continued his stellar 2018 campaign with another strong night. His 51-yard average off two punts eclipsed his season average of 42.2 and Brent Cimaglia nailed his only field goal attempt of the night.

The return units provided good coverage and overall, there were no miscues that hurt the team.

Final Grade: 3.5 (A)

Coaching

This was your classic case of one side of the ball performing well and the other one not playing so well. In my opinion, this was arguably Tyson Helton’s best-called game and Jeremy Pruitt/Kevin Sherrer’s worst-called game.

But the team still fought until the very end and there was still plenty of improvement on the field. As long as that continues to happen, then the suffering during 2018 won’t be for nothing.

Final Grade: 2.0 (C)

Overall Grade: 2.5 (C)

This reminded me a lot of past UT games. Get out to a big lead, blow the big lead, get some unfortunate calls on game-changing plays, and lose the game on a final offensive drive.

While there were a lot of similar aspects of the recent losing ways, there were also signs that there is a new dawn on the horizon.

Overall Grade For The 2018 Season: 2.51 (C)