Vols fend off Gamecocks in season opener

Carter County Sports

The Tennessee football program picked up where they left off.

No. 16 Tennessee held on to take a 31-27 road victory over South Carolina in the 2020 season opening in Columbia, S.C. The win was Tennessee’s seventh win dating back to last season’s win over the Gamecocks in Neyland Stadium.

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

The Vols secured the win on a special teams mistake with just over a minute remaining as Jimmy Holiday – a true freshman – jumped on a punt after it bounced off a Gamecock defender.

“I am tickled that they found a way (to win),” Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt said.” There’s lots of things that we can work on and improve. I’m sure there’s lots of things that we probably did well, but the bottom line is we’re leaving Columbia with a ‘W’ and that’s what we came here for.

Jarrett Guarantano accounted in two touchdowns for the Vols – one on the ground for Tennessee’s opening score as well as a 32-yard pass to Josh Palmer that proved to be the game winner in the fourth. The senior graduate was 19-of-31 for 259 yards through the air.

Palmer finished with six catches for 85 yards.

The Tennessee ground game had a 1-2 punch in Ty Chandler and Eric Gray. Chandler finished with 86 yards on 13 carries, while Gray had 12 carries for 46 yards and a touchdown.

It wasn’t pretty at times, but it was expected in the season opener in the COVID-19 era.

South Carolina opened the game with an 11-play drive that covered 75 yards that was capped by a three-yard run by Kevin Harris.

The first offensive drive of the season was nearly disastrous for Tennessee as it ended on an errant snap a punt that set South Carolina up inside Vol territory. UT, however, saw the defense rise to the occasion and forced a punt despite the short field.

The Tennessee offense got things cranking as the Vols covered 90 yards on seven plays, including a 31-yard pass to Eric Gray that set up the Guarantano touchdown run.

Both teams traded punts until the opening minute of the second quarter as Henry To’o To’o intercepted a Collin Hill pass and returned it 32 yards for the touchdown.

That would be the lone score in the second quarter as Tennessee held a 14-7 advantage at the half.

Tennessee set the tone on the first series of the third quarter. The Vols moved efficiently and took a 21-7 lead after Gray scored on a 12-yard run.

South Carolina answered as Hill found Shi Smith for a 29-yard touchdown on the next drive, and then Hill evened the score on a one-yard score with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Tennessee regained a 24-21 lead in the closing minutes of the third quarter as Brent Cimaglia kicked a 27-yard field goal.

The Gamecocks, however, answered the bell again with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game as Parker White hit a 35-yard kick. Tennessee, however, moved quickly to counter with the Guarantano-Palmer score.

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

South Carolina added a field goal with three minutes remaining setting up the Tennessee drive that led to the final punt.

“I’m tickled to death that we won, but first off, I want to really compliment the way South Carolina played, the way they competed,” Pruitt said. “They never quit. It’s just the ball bounced our way a couple of times, and it is a share right now that with what all these young men are going through, that there has to be a winner and a loser.”

“I am proud of our players. I am proud of our staff and everybody in our organization.”

Tennessee is set to return to action on Saturday in their home opener against Missouri.

Photos courtesy of Tennessee Athletics.

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