KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A week after going toe-to-toe with two top-10 teams, South Carolina got torched by a desperate Tennessee team Saturday, losing to the Volunteers 41-21 in Knoxville.
Using two backup quarterbacks, Tennessee rolled up 485 yards against a South Carolina defense that had played well in a win over No. 3 Georgia and last week against No. 9 Florida. The Volunteers threw the ball all over the field against Gamecocks, airing it out for 351 yards and three touchdowns. The Vols also scored twice on special teams.
The South Carolina offense, meanwhile, sputtered for most of the game. The Gamecocks managed just 397 of total offense, 75 of it on the first play from scrimmage. The Gamecocks rushed for only 78 yards and were 6-of-23 on third and fourth down.
Freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski had another tough day. He completed 28 of 51 passes for 319 yards, but most of the yardage came on the first play from scrimmage and late in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
South Carolina falls to 3-5 on the season, 2-4 in the SEC, and is in jeopardy of not qualifying for a bowl game for the first time in Will Muschamp's four-year career. Tennessee improved to 3-5 and 2-3.
Tennessee lit up the South Carolina secondary and used the passing game to take a third-quarter lead. Jarrett Guarantano, who did not start the game, found Jauan Jennings for a 19-yard touchdown to give the Volunteers a 24-21 lead. On third-and-14, Jennings beat safety J.T. Ibe for his second touchdown of the game. Jennings had seven catches for 174 yards.
After a three-and-out by the South Carolina offense, Tennessee quarterback J.T. Shrout, who started the game and then replaced an injured Guarantano, hit Marquez Callaway for a 55-yard touchdown. Callaway beat corner Israel Mukuamu on the play.
After another stalled drive by South Carolina, Tennessee capped a 51-yard drive with a 31-yard field goal to pull ahead 34-21 with 12:21 left in the game.
The Vols then put the game away by blocking a punt and recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown. Tennessee linebacker Daniel Bituli blocked Joseph Charlton's punt at the South Carolina 29-yard line and recovered the ball in the end zone to give the Vols a 41-21 lead.
South Carolina led 21-17 at the end of a wild, back-and-forth first half. The first 30 minutes featured a 75-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, a goal-line stand by South Carolina, a punt return for a touchdown by Tennessee, followed by a 48-yard TD pass by the Volunteers. There were a handful of questionable calls by SEC officials — imagine that — that led to Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. There was even an arrest in the stands that captured the attention of the crowd of 87,000 for a while.
The Gamecocks started with a bang, with Hilinski hitting Shi Smith on a slant over the middle. Smith outran five Tennessee defenders for a 75-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
After Tennessee cut the lead to 7-3 with a field goal, South Carolina came up with a huge goal-line stand to stop the Volunteers. Defensive tackle Kobe Smith stuffed running back Tim Jordan at the 1-yard line and then rushed Guarantano into an incomplete pass on fourth down.
But pinned deep in its own territory, South Carolina couldn’t generate any offense and Callaway returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown to give Tennessee a 10-7 lead.
After South Carolina forced a punt on Tennessee’s next possession, the Gamecocks put together a 44-yard drive capped by a 1-yard TD run by Mon Denson to take a 14-10 lead with 3:16 left in the half.
But Tennessee struck for another big play. Guarantano hit Jennings for a 27-yard completion, and then found him again on the very next play for a 48-yard touchdown. Jennings caught the pass in South Carolina territory and broke three tackles on his way to the end zone.
Trailing 17-14, the Gamecocks put together an impressive 75-yard drive to take the lead. Hilinski found Josh Vann for 19 yards on third-and-4 and set up Bryan Edwards for a spectacular catch at the goal line. With a defender in tight coverage, Edwards made a leaping, one-handed grab inside the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Tavien Feaster scored to give South Carolina a 21-14 lead.