Last week, No. 1 Alabama extended its winning streak over Tennessee to 12 games.
On Saturday, South Carolina had a chance to extend its winning streak against the Vols to three games.
For the majority of the game, Tennessee did not oblige.
However, multiple quick-strike second-half scoring drives and timely defensive stands powered the Gamecocks to a 27-24 victory over the Vols at Williams-Brice Stadium. Will Muschamp, South Carolina’s head coach, is now 7-0 against Tennessee in his career.
“Coach Muschamp done a really good job…we gotta give those guys credit,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “For our football team, there are a lot of good lessons to be learned here. I think our guys are getting invested in trying to do things the right way.”
Tennessee opened the game by doing something it had not done all season. A Jarrett Guarantano 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eli Wolf opened the scoring, and was also the first touchdown the Vols had scored in the first quarter against a Power Five team this year.
For Wolf, a redshirt junior, it was just his third reception of the season and his first career touchdown. The drive was sparked by a Shy Tuttle interception on the Gamecock’s previous possession.
“Someone batted the ball…all week coach Rocker pleaded that ‘batted balls is a chance,’” Tuttle said. “Have awareness.”
South Carolina answered with a field goal on its ensuing drive to cut the deficit to 7-3. The score remained the same until Tennessee executed a 15-play, 71-yard scoring drive that lasted over seven minutes and resulted in a 6-yard Jauan Jennings touchdown reception.
It was the third touchdown grab of the season for Jennings and gave the Vols a 14-3 lead. Guarantano finished the game 27-of-39 for 207 yards and two touchdowns.
The Gamecocks would score a touchdown less than two minutes later, but the extra point was blocked by Tuttle and Tennessee held a 14-9 lead at halftime.
“We knew they were going to hit us with the two minute offense,” linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. said. “There two minute offense is tempo, we knew that…they made a good catch in the back corner of the end zone.”
To open the second half, the Vols’ offense picked up where they left off at the break. A nine-play, 75-yard drive was capped off by a 14-yard touchdown run by Carlin Fils-aime to stretch Tennessee’s lead to 21-9.
Fils-aime, who started his career at running back, is listed as a reserve defensive back on the roster. He had not attempted a rushing play in any game this season.
“Carlin gives us a little bit of a spark on offense,” Pruitt said. “Moving Jeremy Banks to the other side, we needed to have a guy over there and Carlin can run.”
Once again, the Gamecocks marched down the field in less than two minutes to cut the lead to five. Tennessee’s ensuing drive resulted in a 45-yard field goal from Brent Cimaglia to make it 24-16.
As was the problem for the Vols throughout the game, they allowed a South Carolina scoring drive in less than two minutes and a successful two-point conversion tied the game at 24-24. With 5:52 remaining, the Gamecocks added a field goal to put them in front 27-24.
“We gave up explosive plays,” Pruitt said. “You can’t do that. You have got to make the other team earn it. It’s a shame that we continue to have some guys play well up front, but we have some guys that literally just turn people loose. It baffles me.”
The Vols were unable to answer on their final drive, as Guarantano was sacked on fourth down to close the game.
Tennessee will be back home for its next contest. The Vols play against Charlotte at 4:00 p.m. next Saturday at Neyland Stadium, and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.
“Every loss stings,” Wolf said. “But all you can do is go back to work on Monday. Correct mistakes and move on. Next week we have Charlotte.”