Sure, it turned into a blowout of epic proportions, but Tennessee football actually had multiple chances to stay in the game with the South Carolina Gamecocks in their 63-38 loss Saturday night. Here are the turning points and plays that truly broke this game open.
Spencer Rattler 4th and 6 conversion to Antwane Wells Jr. on opening drive
After a nice drive to open the game, the Vols held and brought up a 4th and 1 at the Tennessee 27. A false start made it 4th and 6. Everybody knew UT would get its stop and then begin its dominance. That didn’t happen. Spencer Rattler found Antwane Wells Jr. for a 13-yard gain.
This play set the tone, as they scored a touchdown on the next play to go up 7-0. Honestly, though, the 3rd and 7 beforehand was even more crucial. Rattler ran for six yards to bring up the 4th and 1. Shane Beamer sent a message that South Carolina would leave it all out there.
Javontez Spraggins kills drive with holding and missed block
As the teams were going back and forth, Tennessee football had the ball down 14-7. Still, they scored so easily on their first drive that we all knew they’d do it again. Well, enter a sequence of errors by Javontez Spraggins. Hendon Hooker seemingly hit Jalin Hyatt for a 28-yard completion into South Carolina territory, but a holding penalty pushed it back.
On the next play, Spraggins missed a block, and Hooker was sacked for a 10-yard loss. That brought up a 3rd and 28, which they of course didn’t convert, and they were forced to punt. Here is where South Carolina’s dominant offense was able to pull out in front by two scores.
Jacob Warren offensive pass interference
After that punt, South Carolina really pulled away, making it 21-7 and 35-17. UT’s defense kept one South Carolina touchdown drive alive thanks to an unnecessary holding by Brandon Turnage on 3rd and 11. However, the Vols fought back to make it 35-31. South Carolina scored again to make it 42-31, but in the third quarter, the Vols were driving to keep it a game.
That’s where the offense stalled again. On a 3rd and 10 at the South Carolina 38, Hooker hit Cedric Tillman for a nine-yard gain to make it 4th and short, and they would’ve converted. However, Jacob Warren was hit with an offensive pass interference. That drew a 3rd and 25 and killed the drive, forcing UT to punt. Other South Carolina drives were critical, but this brought about panic mode.
South Carolina converts 3rd and 20, draws personal foul on another 3rd down on same drive
Once they got the ball back, it was still the third quarter, and Tennessee football just needed a stop to make this a game again. Well, thanks to a sack by Aaron Beasley, South Carolina was forced with a 3rd and 20. Rattler to Wells happened again, as he found him for a 25-yard gain.
Later on that drive, the Vols got a stop on 3rd and goal, but Tyler Baron was flagged for an illegal hands to the face, giving South Carolina a 1st and goal. Then there was a Kamal Hadden pass interference. Rattler eventually threw another touchdown pass, putting South Carolina up 49-31. That 3rd and 20 and Baron’s penalty put South Carolina in full control.
Hendon Hooker fumble and injury
Down 49-31, you still felt the Vols would come back. Their offense had move the ball and could score quickly, so with 11:28 left, Hooker trotted out trying to make a play. Heupel called an option with him and Dylan Sampson, and as Hooker decided to keep it, he slipped, injured his leg and fumbled. South Carolina recovered and scored a touchdown on the next drive.
That play resulted in South Carolina going up 56-31 and Tennessee football losing its starting quarterback As a result, this was the clear moment when everybody knew there would be no comeback, and it was devastating for Vol fans. The defense has a lot of soul searching to do after this one, but a few plays could’ve changed it.