1. Marcus Lattimore is loved everywhere
There was a national outpouring of support for junior running back Marcus Lattimore after he suffered a second season-ending leg injury Saturday. Rival coaches, professional athletes, pro wrestlers, entertainers and more joined South Carolina fans on Twitter and other social media outlets in grieving over the injury and sending Lattimore well-wishes. “I truly believe that Marcus could very possibly be the most popular South Carolina football player that has ever been here,” Steve Spurrier said.
2. USC will have to rise to the occasion again without him
Now, the No. 11 Gamecocks will have to see if they can once again shake off a devastating injury to their star tailback. Senior Kenny Miles is the starter moving forward, with true freshman Mike Davis backing him up. USC might also pull the planned redshirt off sophomore Brandon Wilds. Spurrier said he expects Wilds to dress when Arkansas comes to town Nov. 10. Wilds, who started in Lattimore’s place after Lattimore’s knee injury last year, hasn’t played this year due to an ankle sprain. USC was 5-1 after Lattimore was hurt last year against Mississippi State.
3. Connor Shaw was pretty darn good
It was easy to not focus on the Gamecocks’ accolades in Saturday's win, but here was a good one: South Carolina’s quarterback was 22-for-32 passing and had a career-best 356 yards and three touchdowns. He did a good job changing plays and could have cracked 400 yards if not for three drops. Shaw also ran for a fourth-down conversion and a touchdown. The USC offense had 510 yards, the highest of the SEC season, but ranks 86th in the country in total offense (372.11 yards per game).
4. Jadeveon Clowney is a trouper
Playing on an injured foot that will hamper him the rest of the season, Clowney made a key adjustment with the game on the line and came up with a sack and strip of Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray to protect the 3-point lead. He also had two quarterback hurries Saturday. The foot injury, which has kept him off the practice field but not the game field, is “bothering him a lot,” Spurrier said. Clowney is up to 8.5 sacks on the season and is closing in on the school’s single-season record of 10.
5. The secondary took a step back, with more challenges ahead
South Carolina’s defense surrendered a season-worst 472 yards, including 381 through the air. Jimmy Legree fell on one long gain and twice Ahmad Christian was duped out of position. Akeem Auguste missed the game with a groin injury, causing some shuffling. Give the Vols' offensive line credit for holding back USC's defensive line pressure most of the day. The Gamecocks are 13th in the country in total defense, allowing 303.22 yards per game. USC’s passing defense is 28th nationally (198.67 yards a game). Things don’t get easier in two of the last three regular-season games. Arkansas is No. 1 in the SEC and 17th in the nation in passing offense (309.63 yards per game). Clemson is 12th nationally in that category (317.63 yards a game).
6. The defense made big plays in the end
Clowney, Shaq Wilson and Victor Hampton combined to make big plays when USC’s defense needed it most. First, Clowney stopped a promising Volunteers’ drive by stripping the ball from Bray at the Gamecocks’ 20-yard line with 1:08 remaining in the game. Wilson scooped the ball up, just the fourth recovery of opponents’ 15 fumbles this year. When Tennessee got one more chance with 36 seconds left in the game, cornerback Vic Hampton intercepted a long Bray pass with 23 seconds remaining.
7. The tight ends made a big impact
Rory Anderson and Justice Cunningham combined for nine catches and 166 yards. Anderson’s 26-yard touchdown grab gave USC a 14-7 lead, while Cunningham’s highlight-reel demolition of two Tennessee defensive backs set up another score. Cunningham caught six passes for career-high 108 yards – he is fourth on the team with 18 receptions. Anderson has 12 catches this year, and five are for touchdowns. Freshman Jerell Adams did not play after seeing the field against LSU and Florida.
8. Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington made plays again
The passing game led the way Saturday. Wide receivers Ellington and Sanders added 101 and 79 yards, respectively. Ellington’s yardage was a career high, while Sanders’ five catches matched his career best. With the preseason question of who would replace Alshon Jeffery’s numbers, Sanders and Ellington combined are close. Jeffery finished last season with 49 catches for 762 yards and eight touchdowns. USC’s 2012 receiver leaders together have 47 catches for 636 yards and eight scores.
9. Ball security was not an issue
After three costly mistakes a week ago vs. Florida, South Carolina responded Saturday with no fumbles. Ball security was a point of emphasis in practice last week, South Carolina’s special teams coordinator Joe Robinson said.
10. Kudos to the kicking game
Tyler Hull and Adam Yates were key players in Saturday’s win. Yates’ 36-yard field goal was the Gamecocks’ only score of the fourth quarter and provided the final margin of victory. Hull has 40 punts this season, with four of them above 50 yards. His 51-yarder with under a minute to play pinned Tennessee at its own 16 yard line two plays before Bray’s interception sealed the USC win. Saturday was also the second time in nine games this year that USC has had a higher per-punt average than its opponent.