They always play close games and Saturday night’s Tennessee-South Carolina matchup was no different. This was a huge game for the Vols chances of making it to a bowl. After their defeat, the road to a postseason game has gotten a lot more difficult.
The Gamecocks beat the Volunteers 27-24. Here are my five takeaways.
1) Penalties Costly
Tennessee was flagged nine times for 75 yards and they seemed to come at the worst possible moments.
Multiple third down false starts turned manageable distances into difficult conversions. A false start on fourth down at the end of the game hurt their chances of extending that final drive. An unsportsmanlike penalty after a Jauan Jennings’ touchdown catch late in the first half led to a short field for the Gamecocks and an eventual touchdown.
These errors killed momentum and helped turn a win into a loss.
2) Defensive Doldrums
Tennessee’s defense will have nightmares about South Carolina running back Rico Dowdle. His 140 rushing yards (on only 10 carries) and a touchdown were gargantuan for the Gamecocks. The secondary gave up a 73-yard pass from Jake Bentley to Bryan Edwards which led to the game tying touchdown in the third quarter.
The Vols defense had issues with the Gamecocks pace and never seemed to find an answer.
3) Third Down Efficiency
Tennessee was able to extend drives thanks to an 11-of-16 success rate on third down. They converted four third downs on the Jennings touchdown drive alone. Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano showed poise in those moments. If they can continue to convert third downs at a high percentage they’ll have a shot to win each of their final four games.
4) Guarantano was good, not great
Tennessee’s quarterback went 27-of-39 for 207 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t turn the football over. As always, he stood in the pocket and took massive hits. But he also overthrew wide open receivers and took a sack on the final offensive play when Tennessee was needing to convert on fourth down.
Guarantano remains the Vols best option at quarterback, even if he isn’t healthy, but the Vols still need more from him to win a game like this one.
5) Muschamp Mojo
It’s not explainable. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp simply doesn’t lose to Tennessee. He was 4-0 against the Vols at Florida and is now 3-0 against them with the Gamecocks.
Make no mistake. Muschamp is a good coach, but you’d figure at least once in those seven games the Vols would have broken through and picked up a victory. They’ll have to wait until 2019 to get another opportunity.
(Mark Nagi is the author of “Decade of Dysfunction: The Road to Tennessee’s Crazy Coaching Search,” which takes an in-depth look at the ten years of frustration that led to a revolt by Vols fans after UT attempted to hire Greg Schiano as its head coach in 2017.)
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