Spencer Rattler, South Carolina, crashes No. 5 in Tennessee

COLUMBIA, SC — Spencer Rattler had 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) may also have lost Heisman Trophy contender Hendon Hooker, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a leg injury, fell and fumbled without being hit.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said he has no update on Hooker’s status and that the team will evaluate him when they return to Knoxville.

Even before the injury, Rattler was the night’s quarterback, a hopeful transfer from Heisman to the Oklahoma bench in 2021. Finally, the junior lived up to the potential that South Carolina (7-4, 4-4) fans were hoping for when he arrived.

“That was probably the best thing I’ve ever felt in a game. I felt unstoppable,” Rattler said, adding that he thought 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.

Rattler came on the night with nine interceptions and eight touchdowns and averaging 198 passing yards per game. Questions have been asked about whether the Gamecocks might want to test the backup.

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 Dakereon Joyner, which South Carolina typically uses as an ongoing threat under center.

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

Rattler’s career highs before Saturday were 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 is the most by an unranked team against an AP top-five opponent in the polls era, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.

“Of course extremely disappointed with the performance and the outcome of the football game,” said Heupel. “Everyone involved, from me to our assistant coaches to our players, had a chance here and didn’t take it, didn’t play well. Thanks to South Carolina. You played well. Just disappointing that we didn’t. not fare better.”

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.