South Carolina came into Saturday night's game against Tennessee with a 6-1 record, a three-game win streak and control of its own destiny in the SEC East. The Gamecocks were taking on a team that had lost three straight games and four out of five.
Why did it seem like the 'Cocks were ripe for an upset? That's easy, Marcus Lattimore. South Carolina's star RB went down with a season-ending injury in its last game two weeks ago against Mississippi State, and everyone has been wondering for the last two weeks if the Gamecocks could win without him.
Tennessee had its chances in this game, which the Gamecocks eventually won, 14-3. UT took advantage of an early South Carolina fumble to take a three-point lead. The Ol' Ball Coach then called up a bootleg for Connor Shaw and snuck Rory Anderson behind the defense for a 23-yard TD pass to give the Gamecocks the 7-3 lead. Tennessee came roaring back behind true freshman Justin Worley. On 3rd-and-1 from the Gamecocks 44, Worley threw a pass to Da'Rick Rogers in the end zone, but it was dropped by the star wideout. On the very next play the Vols were stuffed on a 4th-and-1 conversion try.
The dropped TD took the wind out of the Vols, but it was an interception and a single drive in the second half that sucked the life out of the Vols defense completely. Tennessee DB Prentiss Waggner made a great interception on a poor Connor Shaw decision and returned the ball all the way down to the Gamecocks' two-yard line. Those two yards that Waggner couldn't get became huge when Worley threw a pick right back to South Carolina on Tennessee's first play after the turnover.
Then came what seemed like the longest drive in college football history. It started with 12:22 left in the third quarter and ended 20 plays and 98 yards later with just 47 seconds left in the quarter and South Carolina up 14-3. The 'Cocks ran the ball 17 times on the drive as their offensive line broke the spirit of the Vols D.
The Vols had one last chance when Lattimore's replacement, Brandon Wilds, fumbled the ball at midfield in the fourth quarter. The Vols decided to have their true freshman QB, making his first start, heave one to the end zone and try to beat a double-covered receiver. The play ended in an INT.
It also left me wondering why the Vols didn't give Matt Simms a chance to start this game and give the them a better chance to win. Nothing against Justin Worley, but I think Simms represented a much better shot for Tennessee to win this game. I'm not a Derek Dooley detractor, but I think you have to give your team the best shot to win. I don't think Dooley did that for Tennessee this week.
For the Gamecocks, maybe the schedule is workable. Despite the untimely turnover, Wilds had a good game with 137 yards rushing. Connor Shaw only threw for 84 yards, but he gained 64 on the ground.
The effort was good enough for the Gamecocks and Spurrier to beat an outmanned Tennessee team, but they will need a lot more to beat Arkansas next weekend.