The Vols’ defense had six sacks, at least eight tackles for loss and Kamal Hadden scored UT’s first pick six in two seasons, while the offense ran for 238 yards and three touchdowns as Tennessee beat South Carolina by three touchdowns.
The Dark Mode offense started strong, scoring two touchdowns on its first three possessions in the first half. The only drive that didn’t put points on the board was the second one, when Joe Milton threw his second interception as a Vol.
The defense stopped South Carolina on its first drive, but the Gamecocks put up a field goal on their second drive and a touchdown on a 29-yard drive after Milton’s interception.
As play entered the second quarter, Tennessee’s defense had the Gamecocks in a fourth-and-seven before SC dialed up a fake punt for a 32-yard gain.
A few plays later, the Vols’ defense stopped South Carolina on a fourth-and-two as the pressure got to Rattler and Wesley Walker stopped an Xavier Legette reception, holding him one yard short of the first down.
The offense drove the ball from its own 31-yard line down to the SC 6-yard line, in large part thanks to another shovel pass to Dylan Sampson that went for 37 yards. But on third down, Milton tossed a ball to the corner of the end zone that hit Keyton in the hands, but a South Carolina DB helped break up the pass and the Vols had to settle for a field goal. Tennessee led 17-10 with 8:50 left in the second quarter.
The UT pass rush was affecting the Gamecock offense, even if at this point in the game it hadn’t recorded a sack. A holding penalty and three total passes for seven yards forced an SC punt.
After the punt, Milton hit Bru McCoy with an 18-yard pass, and McCoy’s ended up being carted off the field after a gnarly looking knee injury. The injury kinda took the wind out of UT’s sails, and the Vols ended up with one run for four yards, a sack and an incompletion that led to a Jackson Ross punt that pinned South Carolina inside the 10-yard line.
Pearce got his team-leading fifth sack (he now has a team-leading six sacks ) on the first play from scrimmage, and the defense forced a three-and-out with SC punting out of its own end zone. Tennessee followed with its own three-and-out, and the Gamecocks got the ball back at their own 25 after Ross’ punt bounced into the end zone with 2:33 left in the first half.
This time, it was Tyler Baron who blew past the left tackle early in the drive and caused Rattler to run into his own center — Omari Thomas got credit for the sack. The Vols’ defensive line spent most of the drive in the backfield, and Carolina ended up in a third-and-13 situation. Instead of just running the clock out, Rattler tossed a 28-yard pick six to Kamal Hadden.
Watch it once. Then close your eyes and hear it. pic.twitter.com/Vrm4ln6OR0— grit (@GRITknox) October 1, 2023
An unsportsmanlike penalty after the interception returned for a TD and a kickoff that went out of bounds put Carolina near midfield to start its drive. On second-and-two, Pearce picked up his second sack of the game and tossed Rattler down for a nine-yard loss. Tennessee went into halftime up 24-10 and would get the ball after the break.
The Vols opened the second half with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that included nine rushing plays before Milton hit Jacob Warren in the back corner of the near sideline end zone for Milton’s first TD toss of the game and Warren’s second TD catch in his sixth season with the program. UT picked up three third-down conversions on the drive.
Carolina answered immediately with a 75-yard touchdown run from Mario Anderson on the first play from scrimmage, cutting the Vols’ lead from 31-10 to 31-17.
Tennessee ran the ball on first down for one yard, got a holding call on second down that SC declined and then Milton threw a laser to Chas Nimrod — one that would have gone for a first down — that went through both Nimrod’s hands, hit him in the helmet and bounced harmlessly to the ground for an incompletion and a three-and-out. Not an ideal answer to SC’s touchdown.
Carolina looked like it might be headed towards the Vols’ end zone — going 30 yards on six plays in 3.5 minutes, but on fourth-and-one, the defense got its second turnover on downs out of three SC tries.
Following a decent start to the drive, going six plays for 36 yards, Milton threw his second interception of the night giving SC the ball deep in its own territory. The Gamecocks narrowly avoided a safety twice — first on a corner blitz from Jourdan Thomas on a running play and again when Rattler nearly ran out of the back of the end zone as numerous Vols chased him.
Dee Williams ran the following punt back for a touchdown, but the officials called a block in the back call that took the TD off the board and gave the Vols the ball at the Gamecocks’ 35-yard line.
Jaylen Wright ran for 13 yards on a third-and-seven, and Tennessee went into the fourth quarter with a first down at SC’s 22-yard line. McCallan Castles fell down for no gain on a tight-end screen pass and UT picked up a false start to make it third-and-15 at the 27. Wright ran the ball for 12 yards, and Tennessee settled for a Charles Campbell 33-yard field goal. 34-17 Vols with 12-ish minutes left in the game.
Pearce picked up another sack on SC’s second play from scrimmage — giving him two QB sacks for the game along with two tackles for loss and a QB hurry. Carolina ended up picking up a fourth-down conversion when he threw a ball that went right through Tamarion McDonald’s hands and into Trey Knox’s hands for a 20-yard gain. Kurott Garland picked up the Vols’ sixth sack of the night, and Carolina settled for a 47-yard FG to make it a two-score game at 34-20, Vols.
Milton captained the offense right down the field for a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive. He completed double-digit yard passes to Ramel Keyton, Nimrod, White and Warren, while Dylan Sampson picked up the TD on a six-yard rush. That TD gave each of UT’s three main backs a touchdown (Jaylen Wright, Jabari Small, Dylan Sampson), and the drive put the Vols at 225 rushing yards for the game. It also essentially sealed the win, making it a 21-point game with less than four minutes remaining.
The Vols converted nearly 50-percent (7-15) of their third downs, while holding Carolina to just 2-14. The offense flashed the explosiveness that makes it so dangerous with four pass plays of 15 yards or more and 10 runs of 10-plus yards. Just an opinion here, but the game ball goes to the offensive or defensive line. Take your pick. Both groups absolutely dominated.
Tennessee heads into its bye week sitting at 4-1, with a trip to Texas A&M coming up on 10/14.