published Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Cunningham is also blocked


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE -- A temporary kicking change didn't help Tennessee get field-goal attempts past the line of scrimmage Saturday night.

The lone blip on an otherwise splendid first-half performance against South Carolina came on a blocked 40-yard field-goal try with 2 minutes, 59 seconds left in the first quarter.

Junior Chad Cunningham, normally the punter and kickoff specialist, filled in for injured kicker Daniel Lincoln but couldn't get his first attempt over the arms of South Carolina redshirt freshman defensive tackle Devin Taylor.

Taylor has proven himself as a playmaker in his first collegiate season. He was named SEC defensive linemen of the week after South Carolina's season-opening win over North Carolina State. He forced two fumbles, one that was returned for the game's only touchdown, and added six tackles, three stops for loss and a sack in the 7-3 victory.

Still, Saturday wasn't a start to UT's field-goal woes. The Vols converted just one in four chances in last week's 12-10 loss at then-No. 1 Alabama, allowing two blocks in the fourth quarter -- including one as time expired.

Lincoln kicked last week despite aggravating a quadriceps injury just before the game. He was limited all this past week in practice and warmed up Saturday before getting ruled out.

Walk-on Chip Rhome also warmed up before the game, but UT coaches initially turned to their punter -- not that it solved the problem.

Extra Vols notes

Vols senior weakside linebacker Rico McCoy eclipsed the 300-tackle mark for his career with four stops in Saturday's first eight minutes. McCoy was slightly limited in practice last week but consistently maintained he would be ready for the Gamecocks. He most certainly was, with eight first-half tackles and two forced fumbles.

UT freshman safety Janzen Jackson told teammates all week that he would get his first career interception against the Gamecocks, but he squandered a great chance for it late in the first quarter. He was closer than any Gamecock to an errant Stephen Garcia pass, but it slipped through his hands and fell to the ground.

Cunningham got some nice bounces to boost some lackluster punts, and he averaged more than 44 yards on his first four punts.

Freshman tailback Bryce Brown had 41 yards on just three first-half runs, but he was stuffed for no gain on a third-and-1 on UT's first possession in the second half.

Offensive lineman Antone Davis and punter Dustin Colquitt were honored before the game as UT legends.

Gamecocks notes

Poor kickoff returns didn't help South Carolina's early field positions, which worsened its lost-fumble problems. Chris Culliver returned the short opening kickoff just 8 yards to the 27, and he took the second one just 14 yards to the 14. His third return went just 8 yards to the 18.

The Gamecocks were dealt a tough injury blow after falling behind 14-0 early in the first quarter. Junior defensive end Cliff Matthews, who entered the game third in the SEC in sacks and second in tackles for loss, left the game with a shoulder injury and didn't return.

Freshman cornerback D.J. Swearinger, who switched his commitment from UT to South Carolina late in the recruiting process, was flagged for an illegal blocked that wiped out a 73-yard punt return touchdown late in the second quarter.

South Carolina tried a trio of backs but couldn't sustain any early success on the ground. The Gamecocks had just 21 yards on 12 first-half carries, and their longest run at that point was a 7-yard Garcia scramble. UT, meanwhile, had 95 yards on 17 first-half runs. Garcia's 149 passing yards kept South Carolina somewhat close through two quarters.

Large empty spaces in the visiting fan section (and constant rain) didn't help Saturday's surprisingly low attendance, which was announced at 96,263.

South Carolina took its first possession of the second half inside the UT 40, but Vols senior defensive tackle Dan Williams sacked Garcia on third down, forcing the Gamecocks to punt. ...

Representatives from the Chick-fil-A, Capital One, Outback and Orange Bowls attended Saturday's game. ...

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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