KNOXVILLE — Black and back. Garnet and gone.
The Tennessee football team, clad in black-and-orange Halloween jerseys, withstood No. 21 South Carolina in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night for its first win over a ranked opponent in three seasons — and for the first time under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin.
UT turned three first-half turnovers into short touchdown drives and held on for a 31-13 win over Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks, who dug themselves a deep hole in the game’s first four minutes.
Fumbles from tight end Justice Cunningham and tailback Kenny Miles gave the Volunteers possession in South Carolina territory, and they capitalized on a 38-yard pass to fullback Austin Johnson and a 14-yard run from tailback Montario Hardesty to take a 14-0 lead with 11 minutes left in the first quarter.
South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia fumbled in the second quarter, and the Vols extended their lead to 21-0 moments later on Jonathan Crompton’s 2-yard fourth-down pass to sophomore fullback Kevin Cooper from Chattanooga.
“It’s about time, right?” Cooper said later. “The biggest thing is we won the game, obviously, but it was also good to finally get one. I can’t lie. It felt good.”
Hardesty answered two South Carolina field goals with another score, this one from 7 yards, to put UT up 28-6 late in the third quarter. The Gamecocks responded 72 seconds later with a 31-yard touchdown strike from Garcia to diving wide receiver Moe Brown, but a Garcia gaffe essentially sealed the outcome midway through the fourth quarter. Freshman linebacker Greg King intercepted Garcia near midfield, and the Vols inched their advantage to 31-13 on a 39-yard Chad Cunningham field goal with 4:23 left.
“That was a very big win for our program,” Kiffin said. “Obviously, it was kind of sloppy at times, but the whole game was going to be about turnovers, especially right before the game as it started to rain. This was going to be about protecting the ball, and we pride ourselves on that. That’s the story of the game, to get four turnovers on defense and to give up none on offense. You’re going to win a lot of games that way.
“It was good to have a game like that, for our players to see that.”
UT will stay home this week for a 7 p.m. game with Memphis before closing the regular season with games against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Tennessee winsStaff Photo by Dan Henry Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences alumni Dale Ernst, David Craft, Wesley Schultz, and John Greer, from left, dressed up for Halloween, gaze towards the flag as the national anthem plays before the start of Tennessee's home game against South Carolina Saturday evening in Knoxville.