South Carolina keeps inching closer to a historic appearance in the SEC title game, but it is a slow and, at times, painful process.
The No. 17 Gamecocks made progress Saturday in a 38-24 victory against Tennessee but not without taking a few steps backward at the same time.
“That’s called football,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “Some games you make (all the plays), and some games you don’t. If you think we’ll play like we did against Alabama every week, that’s not going to happen. We had some really ridiculous, dumb plays today, but with the game close, our guys found a way to pull it out.”
The positives: Marcus Lattimore had a career-high 184 rushing yards in his return from an ankle injury. Alshon Jeffery had a 70-yard touchdown reception to give the Gamecocks the lead with 12:17 left in the fourth quarter. South Carolina got four turnovers, surpassing its total from the previous four games combined.
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The negatives: The Gamecocks gave up 312 passing yards to a team that was averaging 199. Tennessee converted a fourth-and-10 with a 25-yard run on a fake punt. South Carolina gave up a 14-point second half lead to a team that had 28 points in the second half in its previous six games.
“That was a funny game, strange,” said Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for defense. “Just when you feel like you’ve almost got them down where they can’t even breathe, we’d do something really stupid and let them get going again. Something would pop up in all three phases at some point in time.”
South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC), which played in front of 79,336 in Williams-Brice Stadium, maintains a one-game lead over Florida in the SEC East after the Gators beat Georgia to keep pace. The Gamecocks host No. 19 Arkansas next week before heading to Gainesville, Fla., to play Florida on Nov. 13.
The Volunteers (2-6, 0-5) remain winless in the SEC.
South Carolina went to halftime tied for the second consecutive week and came out hot for the second consecutive week. Defensive end Devin Taylor, who had two fumble recoveries, picked off a Tyler Bray pass and went 24 yards for a touchdown to give South Carolina a 24-10 lead 3:20 into the second half.
However, Tennessee tied the game at 24 with 13:17 left in the game on a 17-yard strike from Bray to Gerald Jones. That came one play after a 62-yard gain by Denarius Moore.
Two plays after Jones’ score, South Carolina got Alshon Jeffery involved, hitting the sophomore over the middle and watching him race 70 yards for the decisive score. From there, the Gamecocks rode Lattimore, who had 84 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
“Look who took over in the fourth quarter. No. 21 and No. 1,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said, referencing Lattimore and Jeffery. “That’s what great players do.”
Lattimore tied the school’s single-season record for touchdowns in a season by a freshman with his 13th score.
“Everybody knows I am about to get the ball (in the fourth quarter),” he said. “That is how it has been since high school, so I am used to it. We made some big plays out there. It was the o-line giving (quarterback Stephen) Garcia time. Alshon made a play, and I made a couple plays on Tennessee’s missed assignments and blocking from the o-line.”
“That’s football,” Spurrier reiterated. “You just keep on playing and you trust your guys can make some plays in the fourth quarter. That’s what happened today.”
Tenn - FG Palardy 39, 2:50.
USC - FG Lanning 40, 13:33.
USC - Lattimore 1 run (Lanning kick), 6:40.
Tenn - Stocker 12 pass from Simms (Palardy kick), 3:17.
USC - Garcia 1 run (Lanning kick), 12:30.
USC - Taylor 24 interception return (Lanning kick), 11:40.
Tenn - Moore 30 pass from Bray (Palardy kick), 3:09.
Tenn - Jones 17 pass from Bray (Palardy kick), 13:17.
USC - A. Jeffery 70 pass from Garcia (Lanning kick), 12:17.
USC - Garcia 1 run (Lanning kick), 3:28.
A - 79,336.
|Time of Possession||31:32||28:28|
RUSHING: Tennessee, D.Rogers 5-49, Poole 16-33, Cunningham 1-25, Neal 6-16, Z.Rogers 1-9, Team 1-(minus 1), Simms 4-(minus 15), Bray 3-(minus 24). South Carolina, Lattimore 29-184, Garcia 10-18, Maddox 2-9, C.Shaw 1-2, Team 1-(minus 1).
PASSING: Tennessee, Bray 9-15-1-159, Simms 10-13-0-153. South Carolina, Garcia 13-22-1-223.
RECEIVING: Tennessee, Moore 6-228, Jones 6-49, Poole 3-21, Stocker 2-16, Fugate 1-4, Neal 1-(minus 6). South Carolina, A. Jeffery 3-87, D.L. Moore 3-41, DiMarco 2-37, Gurley 2-33, Lattimore 2-26, A.Sanders 1-(minus 1).