April 17, 2024

Script flipped since 2013 meeting between Vols and Gamecocks

In 2013, Tennessee upset nationally ranked South Carolina to get Butch Jones his first signature win at Tennessee. The script has flipped for this year’s matchup between the Vols and Gamecocks.

KNOXVILLE, TN - October 19, 2013: Kicker Michael Palardy #1 of the Tennessee Volunteers kicks an extra point during the game between the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Matthew S. DeMaria/Tennessee Athletics

When No. 11 South Carolina rolled into Neyland Stadium in October of 2013, Tennessee was a plucky underdog led by a first-year head coach looking for his first signature win. The Gamecocks were one of the nation’s best teams, led by a tough senior quarterback in Connor Shaw and a legendary coach in Steve Spurrier.

Things have changed a lot since then.

On Saturday in Columbia, the Vols will be the ranked team favored on the road. They’re the team with experience and expectations. South Carolina will start a true freshman with 26 career pass attempts at quarterback and are led by a first-year head coach in Will Muschamp. The tables have turned since that game three years ago, and the two programs have headed in opposite directions. Tennessee has returned to national prominence; South Carolina has seen its relevance fade.

Surprisingly, it’s not the only time that the fate of the two teams have seemed linked.

South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992. Since leaving the ACC 20 years prior, the Gamecocks had been relatively bad, hitting the 10-win mark only once and going winless in their six bowl games over 21 seasons. South Carolina’s first season in the SEC was nothing unusual — a 5-6 record was right in line with what fans had come to expect from the team. It did manage an upset win midway through the season, however, when they beat the No. 16 Tennessee Volunteers. After that South Carolina loss, which dropped the Vols to 5-3, head coach Johnny Majors was asked to resign and was replaced by his longtime assistant Phillip Fulmer.

Fulmer’s appointment as head coach ushered in one of the most successful eras in Tennessee football history. He won more games with the Volunteers than any coach not named Robert Neyland and coached the team to the 1998 BCS Championship, Tennessee’s first national title in 31 years. During the ‘90s and early-2000s, Fulmer helped cement the Tennessee’s legacy as one of the greatest college football programs of all time. He wouldn’t have fewer than eight wins in a season until 2005, when the Vols went 5-6.

2005 was also a big year for South Carolina. After 13 years in the SEC and only five winning records, the program needed help, so they got some in the form of a big coaching hire. When former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier’s attempt at an NFL career failed, the Gamecocks were able to lure him down to Columbia with a seven-year contract.

At Florida, Spurrier basically made a career of annoying Fulmer and the Vols. He upheld that reputation in his first year at his new gig, upsetting Tennessee 16-15 in Knoxville. That game was the beginning of a long stretch of bad Volunteer football. It also signified the beginning of a new era in Columbia. Under Spurrier, the Gamecocks climbed to national relevance. Their major breakthrough came in 2011 when then-sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw led the team to an 11-2 season, their first of three 11-2 seasons in a row. Since then, it’s been all downhill for the Gamecocks.

Back to 2013.

Butch Jones had just recently begun preaching his “brick by brick” mantra, and fans were starting to buy in after a close loss to Georgia. South Carolina had an early loss to those Bulldogs, but still had a great shot at winning the SEC East. For South Carolina, it was an expected win. For Tennessee, it was a chance for Jones to get a signature win and for the Vols to announce that they were no longer the SEC’s doormat.

Tennessee had a great first half, taking a 17-7 lead into halftime thanks to touchdowns from wide receiver Alton “Pig” Howard and running back Raijon Neal. South Carolina fought back in the second, scoring twice in the third quarter to take a 21-17 lead. A field goal from Tennessee kicker Michael Palardy made it a one-point game early in the fourth. Finally, an incredible one-handed catch from freshman wide receiver Marquez North set up a game-winning chip shot field goal for Palardy.

And just like that, things changed. Jones had his first signature win, and the fans were thrilled with him. South Carolina’s chances in the East were all but gone. Since that game, South Carolina has gone 19-19. At 22-16 in the same time span, Tennessee hasn’t been spectacular, but the Vols’ program has trended up while the Gamecocks have been trending down. The Vols come into Saturday’s game at 5-2, South Carolina enters at just 3-4.

Tennessee is now fighting to be one of the nation’s best teams, and the Vols still have some hopes of making the College Football Playoff. Despite his flaws as a coach, Jones has brought the team back to prominence. Spurrier retired six games into last year’s 3-9 debacle, and even though the Gamecocks hired another former Florida coach to replace him, Will Muschamp’s career with the Gators wasn’t nearly as impressive as what the “Head Ball Coach” did in Gainesville.

For years, these two programs have been shadowy twins of each other, stuck on a metaphorical seesaw — while one is up, the other is typically down. The 2013 game was one of the most recent examples of this phenomenon. Today, Tennessee fans look back at the game as the beginning of the program’s resurgence. For South Carolina, it was the beginning of the end of one of the best eras in program history.

Edited by Nathan Odom

Featured image by Matthew S. DeMaria, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

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Quinn is an assistant sports editor for TNJN and a sophomore majoring in Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennesse. When he's not writing, he's probably doing something else. You can follow him on Twitter (@QuinnNotCook) or e-mail him at qpilkey@vols.utk.edu.