Tennessee’s defense — a flawed but overall decent group for most of the season — took it by the chin in Saturday’s shocking 63-38 loss in South Carolina.
A 22-point underdog jumped at Tennessee and never gave up, beating the then-fifth-ranked Vols by 25 points and piling up 606 yards in the process.
South Carolina junior quarterback Spencer Rattler — a former touted prospect and starter in Oklahoma — came on Saturday with eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions in the season. He completed 30 of 37 passes for 453 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Vols, whose college football playoff chances crumbled and burned as a result.
linebacker Aaron Beasley — who had five tackles, three tackles and a sack in South Carolina — essentially said the Tennessee defense learned a painful lesson about humility at Columbia.
“Our biggest thing was just the execution,” said Beasley, a senior. “We didn’t make, you know, the calls we should have made. Just, in my opinion, the urgency, man, to start a game, we have enough urgency. We thought we’d get in there and just, you know, everything would fall where it belongs. But you know, that’s not how college ball works.
“I think that was the biggest thing, just the execution. And the urgency wasn’t there.”
Beasley was admittedly at a loss to explain why anyone defending Tennessee would think that way, but he seemed convinced.
Tennessee was a three-touchdown favorite over the Gamecocks, and the majority of South Carolina fans — at least those on the internet — claimed to be scared of the game. The Vols’ best-on-paper offensive line would slip past a South Carolina offensive line that had failed to score a single point in Florida the previous week.
Perhaps Beasley thought the Tennessee defense thought too much of it.
“Like I said, we just… I suppose we just felt like it was going to be given to us,” Beasley said. “We felt like we didn’t have to go out and work for it. We thought they would just lie down. Props to her. You know, they came out, they played a great game. They played physically.”
South Carolina scored touchdowns on its first five possessions against a Tennessee defense that had no experienced linebacker Jeremy Banks for reasons coach Josh Heupel has refused clarification. The Gamecocks then went three-and-out to open the third quarter before scoring touchdowns on their next four possessions.
The Gamecocks had 10 possessions barring two run-out-the-clock drives to end each half. Nine of them reached the end zone.
Beasley said the Tennessee defense simply never got dialed in enough to hit back.
“I think we just didn’t realize what was going on at the time. I don’t know,” Beasley said. “The biggest thing was that we didn’t execute the calls that we’ve been making all year. They haven’t done anything spectacular, nothing abnormal.
“We just didn’t … we didn’t do what we were supposed to do at the end of the day.”
Tennessee, which fell four places to 9th in the Associated Press poll this week, ends the regular season with a tougher-than-expected Saturday game at rival Vanderbilt. The Vols led by a backup quarterback Joe Milton IIIneed a win to possibly book a seat in a New Year’s Six Bowl game.