February 28, 2024

Tennessee’s defense falters in loss to South Carolina

The Vols’ defense gave up 63 points to a previously struggling Gamecock offense in the team’s second loss of the season.

Nov 19, 2022; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr. (3) makes a reception over Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Christian Charles (14) in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium. Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into a trip to Columbia to face South Carolina, Tennessee had College Football Playoff hopes alive as they sat just a spot outside of the top four.

However, after the No. 5 Vols (9-2, 5-2 SEC) lost 63-38 to the Gamecocks (7-4, 4-4 SEC), any playoff hopes have been dashed with no two-loss team ever being selected by the CFP committee.

The reason behind Tennessee’s struggles was an abysmal performance from the defense.

Against a South Carolina offense that has struggled immensely throughout the season, Tennessee gave up 63 points on 606 total yards. The point total is the most the program has ever given up against an unranked opponent.

Leading the Gamecock charge was quarterback Spencer Rattler. After struggling to begin his South Carolina tenure, Rattler put together possibly the best game of his career against the Vols. His 438 passing yards and six touchdowns are both career-high marks.

“Spencer (Rattler) is a talented guy,” said Tennessee coach Josh Heupel. “At times, when he has gotten hot, he plays hot. Tonight he was.”

The South Carolina attack rarely faltered throughout the game. Outside of drives that finished halves, the Gamecocks were stopped just once. They even scored 21 fourth-quarter points, slamming the door shut on Tennessee.

This offensive outburst left the Vols with no chance to stay afloat. Tennessee played from behind for the entirety of the game after deferring the opening kickoff.

On offense, Hendon Hooker threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns before falling with an injury in the fourth quarter. In relief, Joe Milton III threw for 108 yards and a score.

Hooker’s injury comes as a worrisome sight as he hobbled off the field while openly in pain. The quarterback was in the midst of a historic year as the Tennessee signal caller and was a vocal voice in the locker room.

“Man, it was probably one of the worst things I’ve seen out there,” Tennessee offensive lineman Jerome Carvin said on the injury. “Just knowing how hard he works. Hardest working guy I’ve ever seen, I’ve ever played with… It’s so unfortunate to happen to a guy like that. But if I know anything, I know he’ll bounce back from it for sure. He’s a warrior. I know he will.”

Heupel says the team has no update on his condition but will further evaluate Hooker upon returning to Knoxville.

Whether Hooker is available or Milton makes his first start of the season, Tennessee will face Vanderbilt on the road for its final home game of the season next Saturday. A win would mark the first season since 2003 that the Vols won 10 regular season games. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. EST and air on SECN.

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Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at rsylvia@vols.utk.edu