COLUMBIA, S.C. — Da’Rick Rogers finally flashed his five-star talent in a Tennessee game Saturday.
But the former Calhoun (Ga.) High School star also showed some freshman immaturity in UT’s 38-24 loss at South Carolina.
Rogers, a 6-foot-3 wide receiver, led the Volunteers with 49 yards on just five runs — a mix of reverses and end-arounds. He also returned two kickoffs, including a 23-yarder that nearly went much longer.
“We’re trying to get him the ball a little bit more,” coach Derek Dooley said. “We’re struggling to do it throwing the ball, for whatever reason. He’s a big, strong [kid], and he’s practicing good. He’s a big, strong runner. He had 50 yards rushing.
“He was our leading rusher. We might play him at tailback next week.”
Dooley was joking about playing Rogers at tailback, but he’s serious about finding ways to get the ball to any potential playmaker. And Rogers has shown several times on the practice field that he’s plenty capable of making big plays.
“We’re just searching for ways to make yards running the ball,” Dooley said. “[Tauren] Poole averaged 2 yards a carry, and Rajion [Neal] averaged 2.7. Giving it to our running backs, that ain’t good enough.”
But Rogers, the first wideout to lead UT in rushing since Gerald Jones against Kentucky in 2007, also was one of three Vols flagged for post-play personal-foul penalties.
UT entered Saturday’s game as the least-penalized team in the Southeastern Conference, but those flags on Rogers, true freshman defensive end Jacques Smith from Ooltewah and versatile junior defensive lineman Malik Jackson drew Dooley’s ire.
Rogers was not made available to the media after the game.
“I was real disappointed,” Dooley said. “Da’Rick? Not very smart. And he admitted it. Jacques? Not very smart. And then ... Malik? Not very smart. That’s just not smart, sound football. And we got lucky we overcame Da’Rick’s.
“We didn’t play very smart. We hadn’t had that problem. I don’t know why it showed up.”
UT was flagged five times for 57 yards. South Carolina was flagged six times for 49 yards.
The Vols turned the game in the third quarter with their first successful fake punt since 2004 against Ole Miss.
On a fourth-and-10, senior punter Chad Cunningham took the snap and ran around right end for 25 yards to the Gamecocks’ 45. He was hit late out of bounds, so the Vols kept possession at the South Carolina 20.
Freshman quarterback Tyler Bray threw a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Denarius Moore on the next snap.
“Every week, we carry fakes on our special teams,” Dooley said. “You’re just waiting for the right time and the right situation when you think you can help you. And I felt like that was the right time and the right situation.
“The guys executed it well, and it worked, so it was a good play.”
Senior tight end Luke Stocker said the play was “awesome.”
“I thought it was a great call, and it was huge for the ballgame,” Stocker said. “I had no idea [Cunningham] could do it. That’s the most he’s run since he’s been here.”
Scare for Lathers
UT sophomore weakside linebacker Herman Lathers momentarily lay motionless on the field in the fourth quarter before walking off with trainers’ assistance.
Lathers said he tried to place his helmet on the ball and jar it loose from Gamecocks freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore.
“I tried to put my hat on the ball, and I kind of got snapped back,” Lathers said. “I felt like a shark swam down my spine or something.”
Lathers didn’t return to the game but walked to the bus with teammates afterward and stopped for a few pictures with family and fans along the way.
“I feel OK now, but we’ll see how I feel in the morning,” he said. “My back just locked up, and I couldn’t move. It was weird there for a second.”
Lathers, who has emerged as one of UT’s best defenders in recent weeks, tied senior strongside linebacker LaMarcus Thompson for the team lead with seven tackles.
This and that
Jones, a senior, caught four passes on third down, and all four gave the Vols first downs. Jones finished with six catches for 49 yards, including a diving, 17-yard touchdown to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Jones is two catches from moving past Lucas Taylor and into UT’s top 10 career chart.
UT senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz stopped the game’s first possession by intercepting Stephen Garcia in the end zone. It was the second career interception for Reveiz, UT’s leading tackler this season. The other was in the last-play loss at LSU.
The Vols’ 404 yards of total offense were the most they’ve gained against an SEC team this season, though far from the 537 yards they racked up in a season-opening win over FCS opponent UT-Martin.
Thompson, senior defensive end Chris Walker and senior guard Jarrod Shaw were UT’s game captains.