KNOXVILLE — Tennessee linebacker Darrell Taylor said Saturday night that a day earlier Volunteers defensive coaches had made the seniors stand up and say what the South Carolina game meant to them.
"We just said that it meant a lot to us and all these games against Carolina recently have been close, down-to-the-wire losses," Taylor said. "And tonight we went out there and owned it, did everything we were supposed to do to make sure we were going to win this game."
The past three seasons, the Gamecocks had taken one-possession victories: 27-24 in 2018, 15-9 in 2017 and 24-21 in 2016.
"Honestly, we were tired of losing to South Carolina," safety Nigel Warrior said.
Led by Taylor, Warrior and other members of the senior class, that resolve showed in the effort as the Vols beat South Carolina 41-21 at Neyland Stadium. The seniors weren't the only players who contributed for Tennessee (3-5, 2-3 Southeastern Conference), but they stood out most.
"We had to get out of the mud," said Warrior, who had 10 tackles with one for lost yardage. "It just came out of all of us seniors, and the rest of the team, they brought us along. We tried to show the way, and they kept our energy going throughout the whole game."
Among the notable performances by seniors: Taylor had two sacks and broke up two passes; linebacker Daniel Bituli had a season-high 15 tackles (one for loss), broke up a pass and blocked a punt he recovered in the end zone for a touchdown; Jauan Jennings had a career-high 174 receiving yards and two touchdowns; and Marquez Callaway added 102 yards on three catches, including a 55-yard touchdown, and returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown.
With four games remaining in the regular season, the Vols need three wins to reach bowl eligiblity for the first time since 2016, with their next chance coming in Saturday's 7 p.m. homecoming game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham (7-1), which will be televised by ESPNU.
The seniors who hope to add a 13th game to their final Tennessee season will try to lead that effort, too.
"Darrell Taylor, Daniel Bituli and Nigel Warrior — those guys come to work every single day," second-year Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. "They have not blinked. They say, "Coach me, coach." They try to improve and they try to get better. They have played with physical toughness and effort. It shows.
"And when things don't go our way sometimes, they try to get everyone else to respond. These guys have grown into great leaders, and it is good to have on your football team."