Tennessee found a way to win on Saturday evening in a game that was a tale of two halves.
The Volunteers scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to take a 41-21 victory over South Carolina inside Neyland Stadium.
“We keep talking about finding a way to win, and we found a way to win tonight against a, at least to me, a really good football team,” Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “We look at their body and work in the first seven games. Forget the record, look at who they have played and how they have played them. They have a really good football team, and we outplayed them tonight.”
“That was good to see tonight. It’s awesome in the locker room. Our team is really fired up, and I am happy for them.”
Tennessee, however, found themselves in a back-and-forth battle in the early going.
South Carolina scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass on the game’s first offensive play as Ryan Hilinski hit Shi Smith on a slant route.
Tennessee got on the board a few minutes later as Brent Cimaglia hit a 46-yard field goal to close the gap to 7-3. On the next Tennessee drive, the Vols marched to the SC one-yard line but was held on fourth down as UT trailed 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Early in the second, Marquez Callaway gave the Vols a spark on special teams. Callaway took a punt 65 yards for a score. The Gamecocks, however, answered with a nine-play drive that ended when Mon Denson scored on a one-yard run on fourth down – after three other attempts were stopped by Tennessee after video review.
Jauan Jennings got Tennessee back on the board on the ensuing drive as he took a Jarrett Guarantano pass 48 yards for a touchdown after running through a number of South Carolina defenders. South Carolina ended the half with a Tavien Feaster run with 10 seconds remaining in the half to give SC a 17-14 lead at the half.
In the second half, Tennessee took over.
The first drive of the half saw the Vols march into SC territory but ended on a missed FH. After the Tennessee defense forced a three-and-out, the Vols scored on their next two possessions – a 19-yard Jennings touchdown from Guarantano and a 55-yard touchdown pass from JT Shrout to Callaway.
“We want to play to win the game, and you’ve got to be aggressive on both sides of the ball,” Pruitt said. “There was a lot of football game left. I think, probably, there were 13 or 12 minutes left in the game. You’ve got to be aggressive and try to score as many points as you can until it gets to a point where, based on the clock, based off the score, we’ve got to make a decision. Do we need to change the way we play? That was what we tried to do there.”
From that point, it was all Tennessee.
Cimaglia added a 31-yard field goal and Daniel Bituli blocked a punt and recovered it for a score to give Tennessee a 41-21 lead with just under 12 minutes to play.
“I feel like our players responded,” Pruitt said. “We are to the point now that if we try to challenge them as coaches, they try to respond, and that is where you’ve got to be. That is why we have coach in front of our name. We have to be able to feel it, see it and all the things that it takes when it comes to readying people’s body language – whatever it is.”
“Our players responded. We won the fourth quarter, which was important. We won the second half. For the first time in a while – well not in a while, we have been responding – but it showed even more this game in the second half as far as putting on more steam when things weren’t going our way. Our guys responded and our guys believe that, which is probably more important.”
Jennings had himself a day as he finished with 174 receiving yards on seven catches for two touchdowns, while he also added 18 yards on five carries. More importantly, he provided the Vols with a spark when they needed it.
“Jauan has passion for the game,” Pruitt said. “He has passion for his teammates, and he has passion for the University of Tennessee. He shows it every single day. What you see on Saturdays is what we see on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He is constant in the way he prepares and the way he practices. It shows up on Saturdays. I think sometimes that can be contagious, and you need guys like that. Jauan has that way about him.”
Guarantano came off the bench for the Vols and finished with 11-of-19 passing for 229 yards and two scores before leaving with an injury in the second half. Redshirt freshman JT Shrout was 7-of-11 for 122 yards.
Ty Chandler had 78 yards rushing on 16 carries, while Callaway had 102 yards receiving on three catches.
As a team, Tennessee outgunned South Carolina 485-397.
The Vols now turn their attention to UAB as the Blazers visit Neyland Stadium for Homecoming.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., next Saturday.