The Tennessee Volunteers opened last season in Neyland with a 38-30 upset by the Georgia State Panthers. Now, the Vols have a win going into week two, after holding on late to defeat the South Carolina Gamecocks 31-27 in Columbia on Saturday night.
South Carolina running back, Kevin Harris, put the Gamecocks up early in the first quarter when he took a halfback sweep in from three yards out. However, it was Tennessee’s running game that allowed the Vols to keep pace with the Gamecock attack throughout the night.
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano opened up scoring for the Vols when he took a quarterback sneak in to make it a 7-7 game later in the first quarter. Vol running back Eric Gray also shed three defenders on a 12-yard scoring rush through the middle of the Gamecock defense early in the third quarter.
The Vols finished with 133 yards on the ground on 33 carries, while the Harris-led Gamecock rushing attack picked up just 89 yards on 35 carries.
The Vol defense also had a strong first outing. Tennessee recovered a fumble, sacked Hill four times and scored on an interception return.
Tennessee linebacker Henry To’o To’o picked off Hill early in the second quarter and broke a tackle on his way to the endzone. The defense then shut South Carolina down for the remainder of the quarter, giving Tennessee a 14-7 lead at halftime.
“Offensively we came out really strong with the first drive, and really got bogged down with some issues, early-down negative plays and then some field position issues in the first half,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said.
South Carolina made a push in the third quarter, scoring two straight touchdowns to tie Tennessee. However, the Gamecock’s offensive explosion was not enough to pull ahead.
Tied 24-24 with just over nine minutes to play in the fourth, Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw a game-winning 32-yard scoring strike to Josh Palmer for the Vols’ first passing touchdown of the night.
After a South Carolina 45-yard field goal and a stop from their defense, the Gamecocks were set to get the ball back with a minute and a half, down only 31-27. However, South Carolina special teamer, Cam Smith, accidentally touched the ball during the punt leading to a Tennessee fumble recovery that would seal the game.
The Vols pulled out the win, but Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said the Vols’ offense, defense and special teams units need work to eliminate mistakes.
“I’m tickled that they found a way,” Pruitt said. “There’s lots of things that we can work on and improve, I’m sure. There’s probably lots of things we did well. The bottom line is we’re leaving Columbia with a W and that’s what we came here for.”
Tennessee was a 3.5-point favorite coming into their first SEC matchup, and the game was close throughout. Muschamp said he expects more close games in the SEC’s conference-only schedule.
“They’re going to come down to two and three plays and decisions there late in the game and you’ve got to come out on top of those plays,” Muschamp said.
Next up, Tennessee will face Missouri on Saturday, Oct. 3 in Knoxville. Kickoff is slated for noon in Neyland Stadium.
Edited by Ryan Sylvia and Gracie-Lee Strange
Featured image courtesy of Mike Comer of Getty Images