South Carolina ended the Vols’ College Football Playoff hopes by absolutely dismantling Tennessee, 63-31.
South Carolina started off by carving Tennessee’s defense up to the tune of an opening drive that went 75 yards in nine plays. Spencer Rattler hit USC’s do-it-all guy Jaheim Bell, who started at running back, for a 19-yard ball on a route he ran out of the backfield that ended up in a TD for the Gamecocks.
The Vols wasted no time evening things up — Hendon Hooker hit Bru McCoy for a four-yard out route, then he hit Cedric Tillman on a 11-yard hook route for a first down. Hooker evaded a sack and awkwardly scrambled for 29-yards on first down, and then Jabari Small capped off the drive with a 31-yard touchdown run. UT one minute and four seconds and four plays to drive 75 yards and tie up the game.
Rattler gave the Gamecocks the lead back on USC’s next drive on a 60-yard, post-route TD pass to Josh Vann. South Carolina ran it a couple times for a yard or two, then hit a 24-yard pass that got called back for an ineligible receiver downfield. The penalty didn’t do the Vols any favors, as Rattler hit Vann on the next first-and-15 play.
The Vols next drive went five plays for minus-five yards, as Javontez Spraggins got called for a hold that negated a 28-yard pass to Jalin Hyatt. Hooker took sack for a loss of ten and then threw a screen pass that was bad enough to look like he was just throwing the ball away.
South Carolina went up 21-7 as Rattler went 4/5 on the drive, including the 11-yard TD pass to JuJu McDowell.
Rattler’s first-quarter numbers: 10/12, 185 yards and three TDs. He had more passing yards in 15 minutes against Tennessee than he did in each of the Kentucky, Texas A&M and Missouri games.
The Vols cut the USC lead back down to seven when Hooker hit Cedric Tillman on a fourth-down, three-yard fade route to the nearside, back corner of the end zone. This time, Tennessee went down the field methodically, using nearly four minutes of game clock and 14 plays to travel the 75 yards for the score.
South Carolina just toyed with the Tennessee's defense on their subsequent drive for its fourth TD on its fourth possession. They went wild-cat for a 34-yard run, threw a double-pass from Rattler to Dakereon Joyner back to Rattler for a 15-yard gain and capped it off with a one-yard Joyner TD run. At this juncture, Tennessee’s defense had given up 28 points in approximately 21 minutes of game time. Absolutely embarrassing.
The Vols responded with a field goal — making it 28-17 — after they were unable to convert a third-and-four play. USC DBs were playing five-to-eight yards off the receivers, and Tennessee ran a odd little play where Dylan Sampson slipped out of the backfield, but a USC DB blew the play up for a two-yard loss. Chase McGrath hit the 27-yard FG on the next play.
The Gamecock offense made it five-for-five, possessions to TDs, on their next trip out. The Vols’ defense helped with two defensive holding calls — one of which eliminated an eight-yard sack by Tamarion McDonald sack, while the other bailed USC out on a third-down incompletion.
With the score 35-17, the Vols got the ball back with two-ish minutes left before halftime. Hooker went 7-9 on the drive, and Bru McCoy caught a tipped ball for a seven-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left before the break. Tennessee went into half down 35-24, despite giving up 355 yards of total offense and allowing the Gamecocks to convert 4-6 on third downs and both of their fourth-down tries.
Hooker’s accuracy was questionable most of the night, and on the first drive of the second half, on third down, he had Jacob Warren with a step on his man over the middle and threw it behind him. So the Vols went three-and-out, but finally — the defense kept USC from scoring on its possession, largely thanks to a play on first down that went for minus-four yards.
Tennessee got the ball at its own 26-yard line after a 55-yard punt from USC and a nine-yard return from Dee Williams. The Vols ran six plays — all passes — and completed two to Ramel Keyton for a combined 33 yards. The Vols didn’t have much luck going down the field on the outside, but Hooker hit Fant down the seam for a 41-yard touchdown to cut South Carolina’s lead down to four points (35-31). Jalin Hyatt’s motion caused the confusion that led to nobody covering Fant down the middle.
Asking the Vols’ defense to get two stops in a row was obviously unreasonable — South Carolina went back up 11 points after it drove 65 yards in nine plays for another touchdown that upped the lead back to 11 points at 42-31.
The rest of the game much of the same — the defense playing inexcusably poor. Offensively, Tennessee managed a punt and then a Hendon Hooker fumble deep in Vols’ territory led to another easy TD for the Gamecocks. Hooker was injured on the play and left the field for the locker room, very evidently in pain.
USC piled on a few extra TDs in the fourth quarter, just for good measure, and it’s pretty difficult to overstate how flatly the Vols fell on their face Saturday. Tennessee was down 31-35 in the third quarter and then USC outscored them 28-7 for the rest of the game. Embarrassing doesn’t even begin to cover it.
UT better show up next week, because if they look like this again, a loss to Vanderbilt can’t be ruled out.