The SEC was full of upsets in Week 8 — five favored teams lost — and South Carolina couldn't avoid the bug. Tennessee jumped out to an early lead before rallying late for a game-winning field goal on the final play and a 23-21 win.
Neither side had huge offensive outputs, as South Carolina outgained Tennessee, 384-325, and the Volunteers won the battle for first downs, 18-17. In fact, that probably counts as a defensive struggle in today's world of offensive football. The big differences in the game were turnovers and penalties. Carolina gave the ball away twice, and Tennessee had zero turnovers. The Gamecocks were penalized nine times for 84 yards, and the Vols were hit five times for 40 yards.
With so many self-inflicted wounds, it's no surprise that Gamecock Man at Garnet and Black attack calls the loss a choke and says Carolina has no one to blame but itself.
Unfortunately, the Gamecocks have little to blame but themselves for this loss. Poor offensive execution by QB Connor Shaw and our receivers and poor timeout management by Spurrier gave the Vols their chance to win the game. Carolina had multiple chances to put the game away over the course of the fourth quarter, but our receivers couldn't make plays and Shaw reverted to his old habit of not getting the ball out quickly enough. You can also question Spurrier for only giving Mike Davis one carry in the fourth quarter, but considering that UT was stacking the line late, perhaps the blame goes to the passing game for not executing. In any event, Spurrier outdid himself by wasting two timeouts while considering whether to go for it on fourth down late inside our own thirty.
Over at Team Speed Kills, Brandon Larrabee agrees that South Carolina did itself in, and that questionable decisions by head coach Steve Spurrier were largely to blame.
But Spurrier's unpleasant experience was almost exclusively of his own making. The play-calling all day was bizarre. After South Carolina took the lead in the third quarter, having seemed to put away the upset threat from the Vols, he continued to call passes for seemingly no reason except that Spurrier likes to throw the ball. Mike Davis would end up with 21 runs on the day for 137 yards and a touchdown; four of his carries came after South Carolina took the lead.
For Tennessee fans, Saturday was a day to shed the feeling of impending doom and embrace hope. It was the Volunteers' first win over a top-15 team since 2007, but even with a 17-7 halftime lead, Joel Hollingsworth at Rocky Top Talk was waiting on disaster. He thought his concerns were justified when the Gamecocks took a 21-17 lead in the third quarter, but when it was all said and done, the team made him a believer.
I wasn't just happy that the Vols had finally beaten a ranked team for the first time in 19 tries. I was marveling at something much more impressive and meaningful than that.
They'd continued to believe even as it continued to grow more difficult to do so. And now, finally, they had their reward. And so I just stood there, arms in the air, smile on my face, enjoying watching them enjoy it. And embracing my own transition from hope to belief, one that they'd helped me find.