Tennessee (3-5, 2-3 SEC) took on South Carolina (3-5, 2-4 SEC) in Neyland on Saturday in a game that many believed would be a classic, low-scoring SEC matchup.
South Carolina proved otherwise by scoring on the first play from scrimmage.
Gamecock quarterback Ryan Hilinski found Shi Smith open over the middle and Smith beat the Tennessee secondary for a 75-yard touchdown.
“They got one on us, but we couldn’t let that determine the game,” defensive back, Nigel Warrior, said in the postgame press conference.
The Tennessee offense, led by quarterback J.T. Shrout, responded later in the first quarter with a 46-yard field goal from Brent Cimaglia that cut South Carolina’s lead to 7-3.
After Tennessee was shut down at the Gamecock goal line, the Vol’s defense made a stop in South Carolina territory to force a punt.
Marquez Callaway fielded the punt in space and hit a gap in the Gamecock coverage. A few seconds later Callaway was in the end zone. Brent Cimaglia’s kick gave the Vols a 10-7 lead.
Aided by a couple Tennessee penalties, South Carolina found themselves in the red zone with under four minutes left in the first half. Mon Denson finished the drive off with a 1-yard rush, and a Parker White point after put South Carolina up 14-10.
Two completions from Jarrett Guarantano to Jauan Jennings and another Cimaglia kick later, Tennessee was back up 17-14.
South Carolina was able to retake a 21-17 lead going into halftime with a 1-yard rush by Tavien Feaster. Feaster’s touchdown was set up by a leaping one-handed catch by Bryan Edwards.
Guarantano opened up the scoring in the first half with a 19-yard lob to Jennings, but Guarantano just got the throw off before he was hammered in the backfield.
“He’s an absolute dog out there. I’m glad he’s on my team and I don’t have to play against him,” Shrout said on Jennings.
With Guarantano unable to go, Shrout took over again at quarterback on Tennessee’s next drive. The Vols did not miss a beat as Shrout found Callaway wide open down the middle of the field for a 55-yard score that extended Tennessee’s lead to 31-21.
Cimaglia piled on with another field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Vol defense got a three-and-out on the next drive before Daniel Bituli blocked the ensuing Gamecock punt and recovered it in the end zone. Another Cimaglia point after ended the night’s scoring with Tennessee up 41-21.
“[We] really dominated the second half in all phases,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said in the postgame press conference. “We found a way to win tonight against, to me, a really good football team.”
The Vols opened up the season with inexperience in key positions, and this inexperience cost the Vols early. Now, Tennessee’s weaknesses have begun to turn into strengths.
The Vol defense was absolutely suffocating against the Gamecocks in big moments. On the other side of the ball, the offensive line blasted holes in the Gamecock defense in the running game and bought the quarterback plenty of time to throw.
Even quarterback was a position of strength for Tennessee, despite Brian Maurer’s absence.
Jauan Jennings opened the game at quarterback for a few plays before Shrout took the reins. A short while later Guarantano took over and threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns before being knocked out of the game. Shrout took over again and finished the night with 122 passing yards and another score.
“[Guarantano] came off the bench, gave us a spark … J.T.’s got really good arm talent,” Pruitt said on his quarterbacks. “It’s a great team win, and those guys are great team players.”
Next up, Tennessee host University of Alabama at Birmingham in Neyland at 7 p.m. on Nov. 2. The game will be aired on ESPNU, and TNJN.com will have pregame and postgame coverage of Blazers at Vols.
Featured image by Ben Gleason
Edited by Ben Gleason and Maddie Torres