published Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Because of one play, Tiny Richardson feels he's to blame for the Vols' loss at South Carolina

  • photo
    Antonio Richardson (74) during the first day of spring practice for the Vols at Haslam Field on the University of Tennessee campus, Mar. 22, 2012.
    Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- The play remains freshly ingrained in Antonio "Tiny" Richardson's mind.

Nearly 48 hours later, Tennessee's left tackle admitted he had struggled to erase the moment that, to him, erased an outstanding performance against one of the nation's best defensive players.

Battling through an injury that significantly limited him in practice earlier in the week, the Volunteers' sophomore controlled South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney until the Gamecocks' star beat him and strip-sacked quarterback Tyler Bray to clinch Tennessee's 38-35 loss.

"He hit me with an inside head fake, and then he went back outside," Richardson recalled Monday morning after the Vols finished practice. "It's the same move he'd been hitting me with all day. For some reason I just bit on it.

"I'm trying to get it out of my head and let it go, but when you don't give up any sacks all year and you give up one to the best defensive end in the country, you've just got to personalize it and just wait till next year."

One of the most competitive players on Tennessee's team, the 6-foot-6, 332-pounder from Nashville took what happened harder than he should have. Shortly after the game, Richardson issued an apology on his Twitter account that gave the indication he was solely at fault for the loss. After rallying three times, the Vols were 19 yards away from scoring the go-ahead touchdown with roughly 70 seconds remaining.

"I told Antonio we would have never had 35 points on the board at all -- we would have gotten blown out of the park -- if it wasn't for him," coach Derek Dooley said. "I believe that. That's one of the things that's going to make him the special player that he's got an ability to be, is how he puts that on himself.

"We would have never even been in the game if Antonio hadn't performed the way he had."

A knee injury Tennessee kept quiet last week almost kept Richardson from the opportunity he relished to face South Carolina's sophomore sack master, the nation's top-rated recruit in Richardson's 2011 class and a likely top pick in 2014's NFL draft.

"He was hurt the whole week," Dooley said. "We were really worried he wasn't going to play. He didn't practice hardly at all Monday and Tuesday, and our history has been we're in trouble if a guy doesn't practice and he's going against Clowney.

"But Tiny could not wait to go prove he could go block this guy, and to watch how he competed the whole game, it just breaks your heart that [Clowney] made an incredible play that last play, and that happens to be the one they're going to show on ESPN,"

The 6-5, 256-pound Clowney has been in a walking boot at times this season and missed time in the first half having his ankle retaped, but the matchup between him and Richardson lived up to the hype, trash talk included.

"We jawed the whole time," Richardson said. "I'm not going to repeat what was said, but it got a little personal. At the end of the day, I think he respected me as a player and I respected him as a player, so that's all that matters."

The woofing continued while officials reviewed Clowney's forced fumble, and South Carolina students noticed and waited on Richardson to leave the field to get in their own words. Before then, though, the two players shook hands at midfield. Richardson missed Tennessee's final desperation drive, as Dallas Thomas slid to left tackle from his left guard spot.

"He was like, 'Oh, man, you're a senior ain't you?'" Richardson said. "I was like, 'I'm in your class, dog.' I think that mutual respect is there."

The well-spoken and engaging Richardson is regarded highly by his teammates, who assured him after the game that he'd won the matchup with Clowney and the loss was not his fault.

"It shows he's competitive, has real good character, hates to lose and hates to feel like he's the one that gave up the play," linebacker Herman Lathers said. "It was just one play. He played outstanding the whole game."

It was enough, though, to make Richardson mentally negate all he did right.

"Maybe for everybody else it doesn't," he said, "but for me, I like to be 100 percent. I came in there with aspirations of beating him every play. I wanted to dominate him every single play. I basically did until that play right there. To his credit, he's the best defensive end in the country. He's bound to make a play here or there, and he got his.

"I'm still trying to get over it a little bit. I felt like if I wouldn't have gave up that sack that we would have scored that play and won the game. Everybody's telling me: 'You handled him the whole game, it's not your fault; there's a lot of things we could have done.'

"But putting that pressure on myself, I think that's what's going to make me a better player in the long run."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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