8. 2009: Tennessee beats South Carolina 31-13
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin
Like Butch Jones, Lane Kiffin also had a signature game against the South Carolina Gamecocks his first year as Tennessee football’s head coach. Like Jones, the Vols entered this game with momentum because of a heartbreaking loss to a great team the week before. And like Jones, fans still want to forget Kiffin. But you can’t ignore these splash games.
Tennessee had just lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide, who were No. 1 and the eventual national champions, off a blocked field goal. It was a 12-10 road loss that broke Vols fans’ hearts but gave them lots to be proud of.
So the next week, thinking they were a program on the rise under Kiffin, they had a Halloween showdown with South Carolina. Tennessee-South Carolina is always around Halloween, so when they play in Knoxville, it’s really special. That’s because the orange is a perfect fit with the holiday. But this year, it wasn’t just playing them at home that was special. The game itself was on the exact day of Halloween, and it was at night. So you couldn’t get a better feel for the holiday.
Kiffin and co. cashed in. Against the No. 21 ranked Gamecocks, they shocked the crowd by coming out with black jerseys in orange pants. The jerseys alone were memorable and are still sold to this day. This atmosphere made the game as memorable as anything.
It also turned into a Halloween nightmare for Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks, who suffered numerous turnovers early that put the Vols in control. Tennessee cashed in on the momentum and won the game 31-13.
At the time, like under Butch Jones, it seemed to signal a program back on the rise. But as we know, Kiffin bolted the Vols after one year for the USC Trojans, further setting them back in trying to restore themselves. But that didn’t change this exciting win.