In a game that was anything but pretty, Tennessee was unable to back.
The Vols were unable to overcome a sluggish second half as they dropped a 15-9 decision to South Carolina after the Vols were unable to score in the game’s closing seconds.
Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano, making his first start at quarterback, guided the Vols 73 yards in the final one minute, 13 seconds without a timeout. He and his teammates came up just short of an incredible comeback, as UT (3-3/0-3 SEC) was unable to connect on three pass attempts from the two-yard line.
On that drive, Guarantano completed four of eight passes for 71 yards, firing three to Marquez Callaway for 34 yards and one to Brandon Johnson for 39. The rookie finished the game 11-of-18 for 133 yards with no interceptions.
The Vols grabbed a 6-0 lead after the first quarter and took a 9-3 lead into the intermission, thanks to the foot of freshman kicker Brent Cimaglia. The Gamecocks (5-2/3-2 SEC), however, outscored the Vols 12-0 in the second half to escape Rocky Top with the win.
After forcing the Gamecocks to a three-and-out on their opening series, the Vols responded with a 29-yard field goal from Cimaglia (starting in place of ailing senior Aaron Medley) to go on top, 3-0, with 10:26 to play in the first quarter. The seven-play, 46-yard drive was keyed by a determined 24-yard rush by Kelly on the third play and an 11-yard third-down scramble by Guarantano to move the ball to the South Carolina 11.
Cimaglia then pushed Tennessee’s lead to 6-0 with 1:36 remaining in the opening period, knocking a 33-yard field goal through the uprights. Guarantano directed a 14-play, 80-yard drive, getting help from another quarterback, Quinten Dormady, who had a 13-yard run in place of Guarantano, and reserve running back Ty Chandler, who had a 30-yard carry and an 11-yard reception during UT’s possession.
South Carolina got on the board in the second quarter, cutting the UT lead to 6-3 with 10:31 remaining. A 19-yard run by Ty’Son Williams was the longest effort in a six-play drive that put Parker White in position for his 47-yard field.
Defensive end Kyle Phillips ignited Tennessee’s third scoring opportunity, stuffing USC’s Williams on a fourth-and-one try with 5:14 to go in the second and setting the Vols up at their own 43. Guarantano marched the Big Orange 51 yards in 11 plays, with Cimaglia adding his third field goal of the half, a 24-yarder, with 33 seconds to go. That kick sent the Vols into the intermission with a 9-3 lead.
The Gamecocks drew first blood in the second half, tying the game at 9-all with 1:02 left in the third quarter. Running back A.J. Turner capped off a 12-play, 95-yard drive with a 20-yard dash to pay dirt. A bad snap on the PAT, however, prevented USC from taking the lead.
South Carolina had another opportunity to grab their first lead with 5:17 to go in the game, and this time the Gamecocks capitalized. A 16-play, 72-yard drive lasting 9:10 culminated in White booting his second field goal of the day, a 21-yarder, to make it 12-9, Gamecocks.
White added his third three-pointer and the final points of the afternoon with 1:13 left on the board, extending South Carolina’s advantage to 15-9.
The Vols, who don’t return to Neyland Stadium until a Nov. 4 contest vs. Southern Miss, head to Tuscaloosa next Saturday to take on Alabama in a 3:30 p.m. contest on CBS.