SC Stunner: South Carolina tops No. 18 Tennessee 24-21
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Tennessee coach Butch Jones promised his team and his coaches would “own” their latest loss to South Carolina.
That might be as difficult a task as trying to end the suddenly spiraling Vols’ three-game losing streak.
Jones ticked off a grocery list of mistakes — missed tackles, too many penalties, three turnovers — that led to the Gamecocks’ stunning 24-21 victory over No. 18 Tennessee on Saturday night.
“Leadership needs to step up on this football team,” Jones said. “It starts with myself and the coaches, but it’s everybody. Everybody’s going to own it, everybody’s responsible. We can’t let this one loss define who we are.”
Jake Bentley threw for two touchdowns, Rico Dowdle ran for 127 yards and another score to hand No. 18 Tennessee its third straight loss.
The Gamecocks (4-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) had struggled on offense much of the season and were expected to be a comfortable bounce-back win for the powerhouse Vols (5-3, 2-3) after consecutive defeats to No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 1 Alabama.
Instead, South Carolina’s defense bottled up the Vols most of the game, holding them under 300 yards of offense for just the second time this year. Joshua Dobbs had two passes intercepted by Jamarcus King and was tagged with a third turnover on a mishandled handoff.
“It just goes back to having everybody locked in” Dobbs said about correcting the errors.
Tennessee got a final chance with 35 seconds left and drove to the South Carolina 41. But Aaron Medley’s desperation, 58 yard field goal attempt was well short on the final play.
“This is a spark,” South Carolina linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “This is the start of something for the next couple of games and next year.”
First-year coach Will Muschamp improved to 5-0 all-time against Tennessee, the first four victories coming during his time at Florida.
Bentley was again on target in his second college start at quarterback. He threw for 167 yards and completed 15 of 20 passes, including a 17-yard TD throw to Bryan Edwards and a 35-yard scoring toss to K.C. Crosby in the final period to put South Carolina up 24-14.
Tennessee could not dig itself out of that hole and ended a three-game win streak against South Carolina.
For Muschamp, it was validation his program is trending upward.
He told his players that if they continued to invest in the team, good things will happen.
“We know what good looks like and we’re going to get there,” Muschamp said.
Tennessee: The Vols’ third straight SEC loss may have been the most devastating of all as they fall two games behind Eastern Division leader Florida with three league games left. Tennessee will have to root for these same Gamecocks in two weeks when they head to The Swamp to face the Gators.
South Carolina: No question this is Muschamp’s biggest victory at South Carolina, and suddenly puts the Gamecocks in line for a bowl game with struggling Missouri and FCS opponent Western Carolina ahead in November.
Count on Tennessee falling from the rankings when it comes out. It’s one thing to lose to top-10 opponents, it’s another to lose to a team that entered last in SEC scoring offense.
South Carolina lost starting cornerback Chris Lammons and starting safety D.J. Smith to ejections, both for transgressions with Tennessee receiver Jauan Jennings . Lammons threw two punches at Jennings after the two tied up in the opening quarter and he was thrown out for unsportsmanlike conduct. Smith was called for targeting on a hit of Jennings.
Lammons Tweeted later his actions were selfish and he apologized to fans, teammates and coaches.
Tennessee’s most explosive play was a 100-yard kickoff return by Evan Berry that cut a 10-point deficit to 17-14 in the third quarter.
Tennessee steps out of conference to play FCS opponent Tennessee Tech at home next Saturday.
South Carolina closes out five straight games at home against Missouri next Saturday.