Spencer Rattler had the best day of his unpredictable career throwing for 438 yards and five touchdowns on Saturday night as South Carolina defeated No. 5 Tennessee 63-38 and all but eliminated 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 injury, Rattler was the night’s quarterback, moving from the Heisman contender to the Oklahoma bench in 2021. Finally the junior did justice to the hoped-for potential fans of South Carolina (7:4, 4:4) he has arrived.
Rattler came on the night with nine interceptions and eight touchdowns and averaging 198 yards per pass. Questions have been asked about whether the Gamecocks might want to test the backup.
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But the junior was patient in the pocket, dropping passes into the narrowest of windows. He 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.
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.
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.
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Hooker was 25 of 42 for 247 yards and three TDs before his injury. There was no immediate word on the severity of his injured leg, but he did not return to the game.
Joe Milton III took over in QB for the Vols when Hooker went down, flipped the ball on downs after driving into the red zone, and led a four-play 75-yard scoring drive in the final two minutes on.
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 beat a top five team for only the seventh time and their fans took to the field. 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.
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.
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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.