Well, it didn’t take very long to find out. At all. Just like last week, the Vols got off to a hot start and scored 28 points in the first quarter before finishing the first half with a 38-7 lead, but South Carolina made life very tough in the second half and looked like it was going to comeback and tie/win the game at certain points.
But the Vols held on and finished the day on top -despite all of the second half deficiencies- in order to move to 4-2 on the season.
The Gamecocks received the ball to start the game, but a false start on 3rd and 5 put them in a 3rd and 10 that they couldn’t overcome, therefore, they had to punt after a three-and-out.
Tennessee’s first drive of the game was much better in terms of offensive production. A 24-yard pass from Hendon Hooker to Velus Jones Jr. quickly put the Vols on the move in South Carolina territory. Hooker was sacked on first down a few plays later in the red zone, but an 11-yard pass to Jalin Hyatt and then a three-yard run by Tiyon Evans was enough for the first down. Hooker found Hyatt again three plays later for the game’s first touchdown. It was a good pass but even better grab from Hyatt as he made the play with a South Carolina defender draped all over him. Chase McGrath’s PAT went through the uprights and the Vols led, 7-0, with 9:18 to go in the first quarter.
Hooker to Hyatt— James O'Saile (@JamesOSaile) October 9, 2021
TOUCHDOWN TENNESSEE pic.twitter.com/a7KqPtfpwc
South Carolina was able to avoid a three-and-out on its next drive, but Matthew Butler broke through USCe’s line and took down Luke Doty for the sack on 3rd and 10. The Gamecocks punted the ball away and UT took over at its own 43 after a return of 19-yards by Velus Jones Jr..
Tennessee’s quick-strike offense - well, it struck again. And quickly. The drive started off with a 15-yard Jones Jr. run off the end-around and ended two plays later with a 39-yard deep shot to JaVonta Payton for Hooker’s second touchdown pass of the quarter. McGrath’s PAT went through and the Vols now led, 14-0, with 6:46 left in the first quarter.
South Carolina needed a big answer on its next drive. The “answer” got off to a great start thanks to a 22-yard run by JuJu McDowell. Tennessee’s usually-solid run defense continued to struggle afterward. The Gamecocks carried the ball five more times for 29 yards, which helped them get all the way down to the UT1.
Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield tried to fool the Vols with a trick play on 2nd and goal from the UT2 after a one-yard loss on a first down run, but Tennessee was all over it - primarily Jaylen McCullough, who came up with his second interception of the season in Tennessee’s end zone to not only end the drive, but prevent South Carolina from getting any points, whatsoever.
Jaylen McCollough! INTERCEPTION!! pic.twitter.com/GofsAazy4m— CHANNEL TN (@CHANNEL_TN_) October 9, 2021
Tennessee made the Gamecocks pay for their mistake. And it didn’t take long. In fact, it took just six plays and 1:18 off the clock for the Vols to drive 80-yards into the end zone for their third touchdown of the game. Jones Jr.’s 31-yard catch set the Vols up at the Gamecock 11 and then Hooker’s 11-yard run on the next play is what keyed the drive and gave the Vols a 21-0 lead with :58 to go in the first quarter.
Hendon Hooker keeps it himself.— James O'Saile (@JamesOSaile) October 9, 2021
TOUCHDOWN TENNESSEE pic.twitter.com/eIikMLBmnf
The Gamecocks’ margin of error was pretty much zero at this point, but that didn’t stop the offense from fumbling the ball on the first play of the next drive. Vols linebacker Aaron Beasley recovered the ball and Tennessee took over at the Gamecock 24.
The Gamecocks defense couldn’t stop the duo of Hooker and Jones Jr. again as the former found the latter on the third play of the drive for a 21-yard touchdown to push the Vols’ lead to 28-0 with :12 left on the clock in the first quarter.
Hooker to Velus Jones Jr— James O'Saile (@JamesOSaile) October 9, 2021
Tennessee’s defense held firm again and it was another third down sack (this time it was the duo of Jeremy Banks and Byron Young) that killed any hope of points for the Gamecocks on the next drive. But good news arrived on the next drive for the Gamecocks sdefense: it held the Vols to a three-and-out.
The ground game worked a little bit for the Gamecocks on their next drive, but it stalled out after a two-yard loss on first down put them in a 2nd/3rd and 12. Both distances were too much and the Gamecocks were forced to punt the ball away.
Kingsley Enagbare took down Hooker for a first down-sack that put the Vols in another 2nd 14 like the first sack did earlier, but also just like earlier, Hooker and Co. converted the first down thanks to a six-yard Evans run and a 15-yard Cedric Tillman reception.
Those two plays made Evans’ ensuing 45-yard touchdown run possible. Evans broke through the middle of the offensive line and used his elite speed to race into the end zone without hardly being touched. McGrath’s PAT went through and the 35-0 rout was officially on with 5:40 to go in the first half.
Tiyon Evans 45 yard house call— James O'Saile (@JamesOSaile) October 9, 2021
TOUCHDOWN TENNESSEE pic.twitter.com/GdRk53JClp
South Carolina had to get something going and it finally did before halftime. Shane Beamer decided to rely on the arm of Doty to get his team into the end zone dand Doty didn’t disappoint. He completed 4-of-5 passes for 46 yards -including completions of 16- and 24-yards- which set up Kevin Harris’ six-yard touchdown run and Parker White’s PAT to make it a 35-7 game with 2:08 left in the first half.
But now it was up to South Carolina’s defense to get a stop. At this point, it was necessary due to the fact that the Vols would receive the ball to start the second half. A touchdown before halftime would essentially put the Vols in a position to end the game with another touchdown coming out of halftime.
It took six plays for the Vols to get to the South Carolina 25, but another sack on first down and then some dubious clock management from the Vols essentially led to a 25-yard McGrath field goal that extended the Vols lead to 38-7 as time expired in the first half.
South Carolina’s defense did exactly what it needed to do on Tennessee’s first drive of the second half, which was get a three-and-out. Now, the offense needed to come through with some points in order to not only cut into Tennessee’s lead, but to get the team into a rhythm through complimentary football.
The Gamecocks received a favor from Paxton Brooks, whose 24-yard punt set the offense up with excellent field position at their own 42. Doty and Co. couldn’t do anything with it, however, as Tennessee’s defense forced a three-and-out, which led to a Gamecock punt.
Carlins Platel made sure Tennessee’s offense stayed out of the end zone on the Vols’ next offensive drive by sacking Hooker on second down to force another three-and-out. Vols cornerback Warren Burrell returned the favor on USCe’s next drive by not sacking Doty, but by tackling McDowell behind the line for a six-yard loss that USCe couldn’t overcome.
All of a sudden, the game was a defensive contest with a little over halfway to go in the third quarter. But that quickly changed once Beamer called a fake punt on the aforementioned 4th and 9. Punter Kai Kroeger was able to hit a wide-open Payton Mangrum for a 42-yard catch-and-run that ended in Tennessee’s end zone. White’s PAT went through and the Vols’ lead was cut to 38-14 with 7:15 left in the third quarter.
Beamer’s defense came through again and forced the Vols to punt on their next drive. The Vols received more bad news as Evans was hurt during a run and had to exit the game. Len’Neth Whitehead took over due to Jabari Small’s injury and gained one yard on his only carry of the drive.
USCe continued to make life tough for the Vols and the game more interesting as the offense made play after play in hopes of getting back into the game. It was pretty much death by a thousand paper cuts on the next drive, but it looked like Tennessee caught a break when Tyler Baron sacked Doty for a loss of seven yards on first down. Harris lost a yard on the following play, setting up a 3rd and 18 at the UT37.
What was a bad situation for the Gamecocks soon turned into a good one as Doty picked up the first down with his legs. The Vols blitzed Doty, but couldn’t get home and found enough running room in order to gain 23 yards, pick up the first down, and set the Gamecocks up with a 1st and 10 from the UT14.
The Gamecocks had to convert a 4th and goal from the UT1 before they could score. Harris’ touchdown run made it a 38-20 game with 12:!9 to go, but the offense still needed three two-point conversions in order to steal a possession and tie the game after three scores. Alontae Taylor said “no” to the two-point conversion, however, as he picked off Doty in the end zone, thus making South Carolina’s comeback that much more difficult.
But as long as Tennessee continued to do nothing on offense, it didn’t matter. South Carolina was receiving plenty of chances to come back and was given yet another chance to put more points on the board with 10:02 left in the game. The Vols had just one first down and 36-yards of offense in the second half at this point.
Tennessee’s defense struggled throughout much of the second half, but had South Carolina right where it wanted: A 4th and 16 from its own 31 with 7:59 left in the game. A stop would pretty much seal the deal, barring some kind of literal miracle.
Doty and the Gamecock offense couldn’t get it done and to make matters worse, the Vols were already in Gamecock territory to start the next drive. It looked like the Vols offense was about to falter again, however, as Hooker faced a 3rd and 7 just three plays in. But a cleverly-called QB draw allowed Hooker to scamper 21-yards to the South Carolina 17. A facemask penalty on linebacker Brad Johnson tacked on nine more yards and set the Vols up with a 1st and goal from the South Carolina 8.
Whitehead punched it in from two yards out three plays later and McGrath’s PAT made it a 45-20 game with 4:45 left in the game.
Whitehead delivered the final blow and Tennessee went on to win, 45-20. The Vols are now 4-2 on the season and will host the No. 17 Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday, October 16. Kickoff is currently set for 7:30PM EST.
You can check out the final score and stats here.