COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Coming off an open date with its SEC East hopes still alive, Tennessee flopped to a 24-21 upset loss at South Carolina.
The Volunteers made too many mistakes and deserved the result handed to them by the Gamecocks.
Where does Tennessee go from here, both the rest of the season and beyond? Clearly Tennessee's program has questions that have to be answered. First, though, a review of Saturday night's loss.
The miserable loss for Tennessee had some bright spots. John Kelly, with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara ailing, gained 94 yards on 14 carries. Derek Barnett added three sacks to his impressive season. Evan Berry finally broke free for a 100-yard kick-return touchdown after some close calls this season.
Entering Saturday, the Vols' 17 turnovers were the second-most in the SEC, and adding three giveaways to the tally led to a season-crushing loss. The Gamecocks turned one Josh Dobbs interception into a touchdown and scored off a fluky fumble near midfield. Dobbs' second interception came on a late drive with the Vols down 24-21.
Trailing 24-14 in the final minutes, Tennessee calmly drove down the field for a TD and forced a defensive stop, but a drive that began at the 20 with nearly four minutes left lasted one play. Jamarcus King's second interception of the night on a forced throw by Dobbs essentially sealed it.
Evan Berry started at safety and even got a handoff on a jet sweep on offense, but he's at his best returning kickoffs. He showed why in a losing effort. The 2015 All-America returner hit a seam at full speed for a 100-yard return that provided the scoring punch Tennessee's offense was unable to muster all night.
WHAT IT MEANS
Tennessee's SEC East hopes are all but extinguished by an inexplicable loss to a division struggler whose lone league win this season was at Vanderbilt on the opening night of the season. The Vols made far too many mistakes with turnovers and penalties and big plays on defense to deserve to win Saturday night.
BY THE NUMBERS
5-0: Will Muschamp's continued success against Tennessee likely helped his former employer wrap up the SEC East division title. South Carolina's first-year coach was 4-0 against the Vols while at Florida, and his fifth win against Tennessee gave the Vols a third SEC loss and essentially knocked them out of the division race.
209: Big plays continue to plague Tennessee's shorthanded defense. South Carolina at no point this season has been mistaken as an offensive machine, but the Gamecocks had five completions of 15-plus yards and three runs of 10 or more yards. Those eight plays accounted for 209 of their 325 yards. The Vols allowed 36 plays of 20-plus yards in their first seven games, the 11th-most in the SEC.
29: Derek Barnett's three sacks of South Carolina's Jake Bentley gave him 29 for his Vols career, moving him closer to Reggie White's program record for sacks, which is 32. Barnett now has a sack in five straight games, and all nine of his sacks this season have come in Tennessee's five SEC games.
98: Tennessee entered halftime with a paltry 98 yards of offense on a measly 2.6 yards per play. The Vols had only 51 rushing yards, a total not helped by two sacks and a 15-yard loss on a bad snap, against South Carolina's 101st-ranked rushing defense. Tennessee had a touchdown wiped out by penalty, and Josh Dobbs threw a poor interception.
37: Running backs Jalen Hurd and John Kelly combined for only 37 yards on 15 carries in the first half. Georgia (326 yards), Mississippi State (290), Texas A&M (216) and Kentucky (216) each had success running on South Carolina, but the Vols could get very little going in the first half. Hurd finished with 16 yards on eight carries and didn't play in the second half.
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