South Carolina runs through No. 5 Tennessee 63-38; hooker injured

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — Spencer Rattler was having the best day of his unpredictable career. He threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns as South Carolina defeated No. 5 Tennessee 63-38 on Saturday night, all but eliminating the Volunteers from the playoffs.

Tennessee (9-2, 6-2 Southeastern, No. 5 CFP) may also have lost Heisman Trophy nominee Hendon Hooker, who left the game with a leg injury in the fourth quarter, falling and fumbling without getting hit.

Even before the quarterback’s injury that night was Rattlerwho moved from the Heisman contender to the Oklahoma bench in 2021.

“That was probably the best thing I’ve ever felt in a game. I felt unstoppable,” Rattler said, adding that in his opinion it was one of the best wins in college football history.

“This game and the next could change the narrative of this program forever,” Rattler said.

The junior came on the night with nine interceptions and eight touchdowns and averaging 198 yards per passing play. There were questions if the Gamecocks (7-4, 4-4) might want to test the backup.

But Rattler was patient in his pocket and dropped passes into his narrowest of all windows. He completed 30 of 37 passes and ran for 16 yards with five carries when he had to. And he even caught a red-zone pass from Dakeron Joyner, which South Carolina typically uses as an ongoing threat under center.

“It was his turn. They talk about players and being in the zone,” said South Carolina coach Shane Beamer.

Rattler’s best day ahead of Saturday was 387 yards against Kansas State for Oklahoma in 2020 and five TDs for the Sooners against Western Carolina in 2021.

Antwane Wells Jr. caught 11 passes for 177 yards and Josh Vann and Jaheim Bell each caught two touchdowns for the Gamecocks. Joyner had two rushing scores.

“Our whole mindset that went into that game was attack. You weren’t able to win this game by stabbing in fourth place,” said Beamer, whose team converted his two fourth tries and finished third 8 of 11.

Tennessee’s defense could do almost nothing to stop the 11th-best offense in the SEC. The Gamecocks gained 606 yards after not surpassing 300 yards in three of their last four games.

The 63 points was the most the Vols had ever conceded in an SEC game, eclipsing the 62-37 loss to Steve Spurrier’s Florida in 1995.

“This one’s gotta hurt,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said at his under-the-stand press conference when “Game!” “Tails!” was heard from students charging across the field.

Hooker was 25 of 42 for 247 yards and three TDs before his injury. He didn’t have his typical crisp game, knocking over receivers and missing a couple of wide-open throws. There was no immediate word on the severity of his injured leg, but he did not return to the game.

“We’ll examine him when we get back,” said Heupel.

(SAND)STORM THE FIELD

Beamer said his youngest daughter Olivia texted him before the game and said all she wanted for Christmas was to storm the field.

Sure enough, South Carolina fans stormed from the stands after the win. It was so messy that Beamer couldn’t find her. But he remembered.

“Santa Claus will definitely bring you something, but Mom and I are probably out of presents,” Beamer said.

THE TAKE AWAY

Tennessee: A promising season for Tennessee imploded when the defense couldn’t stop. South Carolina scored touchdowns on nine of 11 drives. One of the unsuccessful ones was a one-play drive that ended the first half.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks have beaten a top-five team for only the seventh time. It was their biggest win since they beat No. 2 Georgia 20-17 in double overtime in 2019. The 63 points was the Gamecocks’ highest in an SEC game since they defeated Mississippi State 65-39 in 1995.

SURVEY IMPACT

In a day when many of the top teams flexed but didn’t break (see No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 TCU), Tennessee was run over. The Vols are likely to make a significant leap into the new Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday.

NEXT

Tennessee: The Vols head to Vanderbilt. Tennessee is on a three-game winning streak after losing three straight games.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks join Clemson, who have won seven straight games in the bitter domestic rivalry.

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