When it rains, it pours. The South Carolina offense has been spectacular all year, rewriting the record books and firing on all cylinders in their first six games. Saturday, that could not have been farther from the truth.
The Gamecocks sputtered out of the gate, punting on two straight drives before a two-play drive ended in Connor Shaw’s third fumble of the year, and a six-play drive yielded another punt. While the Tennessee offense could only muster a field goal in this span, the Gamecocks were in a hole for the entire first quarter as punter Tyler Hull—punts of 38 and 35 yards on their first two drives—ensured that South Carolina would lose the field position battle in the first half.
South Carolina’s defense, which was third in the SEC going into this game, held the Volunteers offense to 48 yards and a field goal in the first quarter, despite starting at their own 45 or better on four of their opening five drives and no worse than their own 35. On the day, Hull—who is dead last in the SEC in punting—punted eight times for a miserable average of 36.3.
The lone bright spot of the first half was a 76-yard pitch and catch from Connor Shaw to Damiere Byrd on the third play of a drive that began at the Gamecocks’ own five-yard line. This 60-second drive was South Carolina’s fourth scoring drive of 90 yards of longer on the year.
The second quarter saw Tennessee put together two touchdown drives of 60+ yards to take a 17-7 lead into the half. The Gamecocks continued to flounder around offensively, and Elliot Fry missed a 45-yard field goal—his first of the year—with less than a minute to go in the second quarter that could have been the difference in the game.
Still, only trailing 17-7 despite a pitiful first half, the Gamecocks got the ball to start the second half and had a chance to cut the lead to one possession, after spoiling a chance to do earlier in the game. A 17-yard run with an additional 15 yards tacked on for a personal foul was a good start, but it was followed by Connor Shaw’s first interception of the year and second turnover of the game. Connor Shaw had his worst game of the season by a long shot, completing 7-21 passes for only 161 yards and an uncharacteristic two turnovers.
Following a quick three-and-out, the Gamecocks seemed to have gotten it together as they scored on back to back 65+ yard drives—a
Mike Davis 21-yard run, his tenth of the year, and a Connor Shaw rushing touchdown—while Tennessee could only muster a missed field goal in that span. Unfortunately for South Carolina, their next four drives would yield 20 yards and four punts.
After Tennessee put the game within one point with a field goal, the South Carolina offense had three chances to put the game away. While it was ultimately the defense, which conceded a 63-yard drive, setting up the go-ahead field goal, that lost the game, the blame should rest squarely on the shoulders of the offense.
Three consecutive three-and-outs and, when one first down would have sufficed, or at least switched field position, was all that a lackluster Gamecock offense could muster. The defense was able to stop the Vols twice, forcing two three-and-outs and only giving up ten total yards, but as the saying goes, third time’s a charm. Michael Palardy knocked in a 19-yard chip shot as the clock expired to seal the deal on what was an utter humiliation for the Gamecocks in Neyland.
On a day when Florida and Georgia lost, the Gamecocks would have been one win away from controlling their own destiny to Atlanta. Maybe next year.