Long before the Gamecocks pulled off a thrilling 27-24 win, Tennessee had a breakthrough Saturday night at South Carolina’s expense.
Just over 10 minutes into the game, UT quarterback Jarrett Guarantano found tight end Eli Wolf for a five-yard score to give the Volunteers a 7-0 lead. The touchdown was the first produced all season by UT’s offense in the first quarter.
The Vols entered Saturday with just 16 first quarter points, coming from three field goals and a blocked punt returned for a TD.
It wasn’t a good sign for a Carolina bunch that was trying to avoid another slow start.
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In the three first halves prior to Saturday’s contest, the Gamecocks were outscored by Kentucky, Missouri and Texas A&M, 60-17. USC went 1-2 in those games.
“We’ve talked about it,” quarterback Jake Bentley said Tuesday. “It’s just a matter of being ready to go from the first whistle to the last, having the same mindset.”
Tennessee led South Carolina, 14-9, at the break. It was only the Vols’ third halftime lead of the season. The first 30 minutes included Bentley’s sixth first half interception of the season.
Familiar name, costly celebration
The South Carolina women’s basketball team, which begins its season with an exhibition game against Lander on Friday, was introduced during the first quarter. Included among those waving to the crowd was junior forward Alexis Jennings. She matched her teammates with Carolina gear.
Jennings, though, might have felt torn as her brother, Jauan Jennings, is a junior receiver for the Vols. Jauan entered Saturday with four career catches for 59 yards against his sister’s school. He added another grab Saturday night.
With 2:11 remaining in the first half, Jennings caught a 6-yard TD scoring pass over USC safety Steven Montac — and celebrated by placing the football on Montac’s chest.
The gesture drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which gave South Carolina a shorter field on its ensuing possession. The Gamecocks capitalized by driving 60 yards in eight plays and getting a Jake Bentley to Deebo Samuel TD.
On South Carolina’s first possession of the third quarter, Rico Dowdle not only scored to cut Tennessee’s lead to 21-16, he eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the third time this season.
The junior back has now topped 100 rushing yards six times in his career.
Williams-Brice at night
South Carolina’s first home night game of the season led to an announced crowd of 80,614.
That serves as this season’s second-best attended contest at Williams-Brice Stadium, ranking only behind the turnout for Georgia on Sept. 8 (83,140).
Despite USC’s recent poor record in home night games (2-7 since going 5-0 in 2013), Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, speaking earlier this week, was cautious of the setup.
“It’s a hard place to win, in Columbia, especially at night,” Pruitt said.
Whether the environment made an impact or not, the Vols were whistled for four pre-snap penalties in the first half.
Retiring USC president Harris Pastides was honored in a couple ways Saturday.
Pastides and his wife Patricia led the pre-game “Game-cocks” chant. At halftime, a video tribute to Pastides was followed by the Carolina band scripting his name on the field.