Sure, it turned into an outburst of epic proportions, but Tennessee football actually had several chances to stay in the game with the South Carolina Gamecocks in their 63-38 loss Saturday night. Here are the turning points and games that really broke this game up.
Spencer Rattler 4th and 6th conversion to Antwane Wells Jr. on the inaugural drive
After a nice drive to open the game, the Vols held and earned a 4th and 1st place finish at the Tennessee 27. A false start put it in 4th and 6th place. Everyone knew UT would get its stop and then begin its dominance. That didn’t happen. Spencer Rattler found Antwane Wells Jr. for a 13-yard gain.
That game set the tone as they scored a touchdown on the next game to go 7-0 up. But to be honest, the 3rd and 7th place before that was even more crucial. Rattler ran six yards to take 4th and 1st place. Shane Beamer sent word that South Carolina was leaving everything out there.
Javontez Spraggins kills Drive with a hold and a missed block
As teams went back and forth, Tennessee Football had the ball down 14-7. Still, they scored so easily on their first drive that we all knew they’d do it again. Enter a series of errors by Javontez Spraggins. Hendon Hooker seemingly hit Jalin Hyatt into South Carolina territory for a 28-yard completion, but a holding penalty pushed him back.
On the next play, Spraggins missed a block and Hooker was released on a 10-yard loss. That brought out a 3rd and 28th which of course they didn’t convert and they had to punt. Here the dominant offensive from South Carolina was able to pull away by two points.
Jacob Warren offensive pass interference
After that punt, South Carolina really pulled away, going 21-7 and 35-17. UT’s defense kept a South Carolina touchdown drive alive thanks to an unnecessary save by Brandon Turnage in 3rd and 11th. However, the Vols fought back to take it to 35-31. South Carolina scored again to make it 42-31, but in the third quarter the Vols did everything they could to keep the game going.
There the offensive faltered again. On a 3rd and 10th at the South Carolina 38, hooker hit Cedric Tillman for a 9-yard gain to make it 4th and short and they would have converted. However, Jacob Warren was hit by an offensive pass interference. That drew a 3rd and 25, killing the drive and forcing UT to poke. Other rides in South Carolina were critical, but this prompted a panic mode.
South Carolina converts 3rd and 20th, drawing a personal foul on another 3rd on the same drive
When they got the ball back, it was still the third quarter, and it only took Tennessee football one stop to make this a game again. Well, thanks to a sack from Aaron Beasley, South Carolina was forced with a 3rd and 20. Rattler to Wells happened again when he found him for a 25-yard gain.
Later on that drive, the Vols got a 3rd place stop and a goal, but Tyler Baron was flagged for an illegal hand to the face, giving South Carolina a 1st place and a goal. Then there was a pass interference from Kamal Hadden. Rattler eventually threw another touchdown pass, giving South Carolina a 49-31 lead. Those 3rd and 20th and Baron’s penalty put South Carolina in full control.
Hendon Hooker Fumble and Injury
Down 49-31 you still felt like the Vols were coming back. Their offense had been moving the ball and was able to score quickly, so Hooker trotted with 11:28 left and tried to make a play. Heupel called an option with him and Dylan Sampson, and when Hooker decided to keep it, he slipped, injured his leg, and fumbled. South Carolina recovered and scored a touchdown on the next drive.
That game resulted in South Carolina going up 56-31 and Tennessee Football losing its starting quarterback. As a result, that was the clear moment everyone knew there wasn’t going to be a comeback and it was devastating for Vol fans. Defense has a lot of soul searching to do after this one, but a few games could have changed it.