An SEC football game was coming down to a final play — and perhaps no one in Neyland Stadium was more nervous than Donell Stanley.
The South Carolina offensive lineman was pacing the visitor’s sideline on Oct. 14, 2017, for a couple reasons. No. 1, the Gamecocks were trying to hold off Tennessee at the goal line to preserve a 15-9 win. But No. 2, if the Volunteers scored and shocked USC at the buzzer, he’d feel most responsible.
Stanley thought the reason Tennessee had the ball in the first place was because he missed a block on South Carolina’s previous possession that forced the Gamecocks to kick a field goal instead of continuing a drive and running the clock out.
“If we lost,” Stanley said, “it was going to be on me.”
The Vols, down six, drove 73 yards in 1:12 to set up third-and-goal from the USC 2. One second remained.
“Yeah,” Stanley said, “I was over there biting my nails and everything.”
But Jarrett Guarantano’s end zone pass for Brandon Johnson fell incomplete, and the Gamecocks prevailed. Stanley could breathe easy as he rushed the field to celebrate with teammates.
South Carolina’s gotten used to this kind of thrill of victory when it comes to recent games with Tennessee. The last three meetings — all USC wins — have come by a combined 12 points.
The Gamecocks (3-4, 2-3 SEC) and Volunteers (2-5, 1-3) renew their rivalry 4 p.m. Saturday in Knoxville. SEC Network will broadcast.
“No,” Stanley said when asked if there’s any main reason for the recent success against the Vols. “We just go out and prepare like it’s any other game. When you play in the SEC, everybody’s going to give us their best shot. We just try to prepare. Every game goes into the fourth quarter and hopefully we’re on top of those plays. The difference is always in five to seven plays. Hopefully we’re on top of them.”
A fourth straight win over Tennessee would be a first in USC history. This is the same Gamecocks program that lost 12 straight to the Volunteers from 1993-2004.
At that time, of course, UT was led by coach Phillip Fulmer and quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Tee Martin and Casey Clausen. The Vols on Saturday will feature Fulmer as the athletics director, Jeremy Pruitt as coach and either Guarantano, Brian Maurer or J.T. Shrout behind center. Tennessee is seeking to avoid a third straight bowl-less season.
USC is a 4-point favorite.
“We have a lot of respect for the University of Tennessee, their program and what Coach Pruitt’s doing,” said South Carolina’s Will Muschamp, who is 7-0 as a head coach against the Vols. “We need to expect another four-quarter game. And we certainly do.”
The last time South Carolina-Tennessee was decided by double figures came in 2011. The average score of the next seven matchups? USC 27, UT 26.
“At the end of the day, Tennessee’s a great team,” said redshirt junior left tackle Sadarius Hutcherson “We know it’s been a dog fight each time we’ve played those guys.”