The 2014 season was a roller coaster ride for a Tennessee program still clawing their way out of the Derek Dooley era. Not one game was more indicative of that than the 2014 clash with South Carolina.
That Tennessee team had seen it all, from watching 9-0 second half lead against Florida turn into a 10-9 loss, to getting crushed on the road in Norman and Oxford, and to falling behind early and having their comeback attempts fall just short against Georgia and Alabama.
In Butch Jones’ second season at the helm, Tennessee had been on the losing end of both blowouts and narrow losses, falling to 3-5 through the first eight games of the season and in serious danger of facing their fourth straight losing season.
But it was that Alabama game where things started to take a turn for the better for the program. For one, they were able to hang with the heavily favored Crimson Tide despite falling behind 20-0 in the first quarter. Secondly, it marked the emergence of Josh Dobbs, who threw for nearly 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns and rushing for 75 more in the first significant action of his career.
The following week, Tennessee and their new signal caller would travel to Columbia to face Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks in a must-win game for two teams who were struggling for a postseason berth.
After a back-and-forth first half, Tennessee managed to take a 21-14 lead into the half at Williams Brice Stadium. However, it was South Carolina who started to pull away in the third quarter with two unanswered scores to make a 28-21 advantage.
The Gamecocks would score again to start the fourth quarter, but Tennessee finally answered to pull within a touchdown, 35-28. But, with less than five minutes remaining in the game, South Carolina running back Brandon Wilds ran wild with a 70-yard touchdown to seemingly put the game away, 42-28.
That’s when the legend of Josh Dobbs began.
A 10-play, 75 yard drive that took over three minutes was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Dobbs to make it a 42-35 game with 1:50 on the clock. Still, it seemed improbable that Tennessee would be able to do everything right in the last minute of regulation to complete the comeback.
The outlook was bleak when an Aaron Medley onside kick attempt was recovered by South Carolina at the Vols’ 42-yard line. But, a Tennessee defense that struggled all night to slow down the Gamecocks’ offensive attack came up big with a stop.
Facing a third down with four to go, South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson rolled left, looking to get it to the marker to seal the deal. That’s when another sophomore would make a clutch play. Derek Barnett forced a fourth and long with a sack of Thompson at the 46-yard line, forcing the Gamecocks to punt with 1:33 left to play.
After the punt, Dobbs and company went to work at their own 15. On first and 10, Dobbs dropped back and hit Pig Howard, who scampered for all the way to the 45-yard line for a first down. A few plays later, Dobbs would hit Jalen Hurd for a 10-yard gain and another first down with under a minute remaining.
After rushing for another first down on a draw play, Dobbs continued to make a big plays with his arm with an 18-yard strike to Howard for a first down at the Gamecocks’ 19.
The 9-play, 85 yard drive resulted in a game-tying, 9-yard touchdown toss from Dobbs to Jason Croom to make it a 42-42 game with just 11 ticks on the clock.
In overtime, South Carolina opted to play defense, and Tennessee received the ball at the Gamecocks’ 25. After failing to reach the endzone, it was on Medley to take the lead on a 32-yard field goal, which he did to give Tennessee their first lead since the 2 nd quarter.
The defense came up big again as Curt Maggitt sacked Thompson on first down for a 10-yard loss. Facing 2nd and 19, Barnett racked up his second sack of the night, resulting in a 5-yard loss for South Carolina to the Tennessee 40-yard line.
A 58-yard field goal attempt to send the game to a second overtime failed and Tennessee did something they had struggled to do all season: completed a comeback with a 45-42 win.
The win propelled the Vols down the stretch as they proceeded to win three of the next four games, including a 45-28 thumping of Iowa in the Taxlsayer Bowl to complete a 7-6 season as well as their first winning season since 2009.
While coming back to beat Florida 38-28 after a 21-3 halftime deficit for the first time since 2004 maybe hailed as the greatest comeback in the last decade of Tennessee football, the 2014 South Carolina game was about as gutsy of a performance by a Tennessee team in quite some time, especially for a quarterback who was a relative unknown just two weeks prior in Josh Dobbs.