The Vols defense were already down Shawn Shamburger and Darel Middleton before the opening kickoff. They did not play tonight.
The offense seems to be firing off and on as the brisk night marched on to the sounds of a weirdly filled stadium. After Guarantano missed Ramel Keyton down the sideline, the offensive line protection collapsed, giving up a sack.
After the Vols held on the next series, it was Brandon Johnson’s turn to show off. Johnson hauled in a one-handed catch, that has to make sportscaster tonight. It was beautiful. Jarrett Guarantano then found Eric Gray for 25-yards and punched it in himself, on the QB sneak.
The first Tennessee points of 2020 came on a sneak.
Guarantano finished the 1st quarter 6/9 for 109 yards with a TD.
At the 13;22 marks of the 2nd quarter, Henry To’oto’o intercepted a Collin Hill pass and returned it for a touchdown. The defense lit up like a Christmas tree, what a way for Henry to start off 2020.
Tennessee forced another punt of the Gamecock’s next possession and seemed to be poised to put some wide margins between the scoreboard.
Look, this felt like Tennessee could run away with it after a few possessions. But, a couple of errant defensively plays kept the Gamecocks in it. They’re young guys trying to figure out their roles.
It didn’t take long for Tennessee to strike again. A 19-yard scramble from Guarantano set up a 12 yard TD run from Eric Gray. The Vols were feeling it again. It wasn’t the prettiest of drives, but it would due.
This wasn’t a South Carolina that was going to beat you on the ground; they only had 26 rushing yards through the first half. No, they were going to try and beat you through the air, across the middle. For some of the 1st half, you saw a few of those plays, and they were definitely finding more success in the 2nd half.
But it was Tennessee coming off the edge that was causing problems for the Gamecocks. Deandre Johnson had 2 solo sacks through 3 quarters. Not letting Collin Hill breathe was the main solution to the Vols problems.
Tennessee’s Brent Cimaglia redeemed himself in the 2nd half, as he drilled one from 27 yards out, which gave them a 24-21 lead. But, just as quick as Tennessee took the lead, Carolina tied it back up. They hit a FG with 10:48 remaining in the 4th quarter to tie it.
At the 9:35 mark in the 4th quarter, Jarrett Guarantano hit a cutting Brandon Johnson across the middle for a big gain. One play later, Josh Palmer was hauling in a beautiful 33-yard pass from Guarantano for a Tennessee touchdown. This was the huge play they’d been waiting on, finally an explosion.
South Carolina just continued to linger, hitting a 42-yard FG with 3:16 remaining in the game, making it 31-27 Tennessee. Tennessee needed Guarantano and the offense to run this thing out, getting them out of Columbia with a win.
That was a job for Gray and Chandler. After Eric busted an 8 yard gain, Chandler followed him with 20 yards up the middle, trying to end it.
Unfortunately for Tennessee, they had to punt. But, what turned out to be unfortunate, actually won Tennessee the game. After Paxton Brooks knocked a rugby style punt down the field, it hit a South Carolina player on the leg, Tennessee recovered. The Vols had won the game on special teams.
Jarrett Guarantano finished 19-31 for 256 yards and 1 touchdown. Coach Pruitt said after the game, “His decision making was good. We have hardly had any WR”s practice in a long time, just over the last 5 days.”
Yes, he threw a few balls over the heads of his receivers, but don’t forget how weird this camp and preseason has been. They did not have all the time in the world to get comfortable with each other.
This was an all-around team win tonight. So, from the freshman to the veteran special teams unit, they did what needed to be done to win. It’s going to take more practice for this group, that’s easy to see. But, you have to like the way certain players stood up tonight and made sure they weren’t leaving without a win.
This was a big night for Tennessee; they’ve won seven in a row as a football team.