It was nearly deja vu for the Vols on Saturday night. However, Butch Jones’ squad found a way to win.
Former Dobyns-Bennett star Malik Foreman forced a fumble and Jalen Reeves-Maybin recovered it with just over 30 seconds remaining to preserve a 27-24 win over South Carolina on Saturday in Neyland Stadium.
The Vols improved to 5-4 with the win – which was the third straight over the Gamecocks.
“Well, what can I say? We found a way to win,” Jones said. “This is a week-to-week league. That’s why it’s the toughest conference in all of college football. I’m proud of our players. We had a number of individuals step up and make critical plays at critical moments of the game.”
Tennessee dominated the first quarter to take a 14-0 lead with an Alvin Kamara touchdown run and a Von Pearson 37-yard touchdown pass from Joshua Dobbs.
Both teams added a field goal in the second quarter as the Vols held a 17-3 advantage at the half.
The Gamecocks battled back early in the third quarter when Perry Orth found Jonathan Walton for a 10-yard touchdown, and tied the game when Jerell Adams was on the receiving end of an Orth touchdown.
Tennessee answered as Dobbs led the Vols down the field, and found Kamara for an 11-yard touchdown.
The Gamecocks, however, weren’t done as they answered with a 75-yard drive of their own which was capped off when Orth hit Cooper for a five-yard touchdown as the teams entered the fourth quarter in a 24-24 stalemate.
Tennessee took the lead when Aaron Medley kicked a 27-yard field goal with 9:14 remaining – setting the stage for the frantic final minutes.
“Part of the evolution of a football team and a football program is finding a way to win the football game when you know and your players know they didn’t their best,” Jones said. “I give South Carolina a lot of credit. We knew they were coming in here. We knew we were going to get their best effort. Coach Elliott has done a tremendous job in keeping that program together. We knew that they were going to play their best.”
Dobbs finished the game 20-of-34 for 255 yards and two scores. He was limited to 35 rushing yards on 13 carries. Jalen Hurd finished with 23 carries and 90 yards, while Von Pearson had eight catches for 121 yards.
Reeves-Maybin led the defense with nine total tackles.
“Just some things that they did to take it away, and Dobbs has been banged up,” Jones said of the Vols’ offensive struggle in the second half. “He’s been a warrior. He grinds through it. So it’s a combination of a lot of things. Good teams find ways to win when they don’t play particularly their best football. We didn’t play our best football tonight. I agree with you. But like I said, the good teams find ways to win games when they don’t play their best football, and I thought we were able to do that tonight.”
Tennessee returns to action on Saturday for homecoming when they welcome North Texas. Game time is set for 12 p.m.