Gamecocks’ late goal-line stand preserves 15-9 win over Vols
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — South Carolina made sure Tennessee’s apparent allergy to the end zone continued for one more week.
Parker White made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a tiebreaking 21-yarder with 5:17 remaining, and South Carolina produced a goal-line stand Saturday in the closing seconds of a 15-9 victory over the slumping Volunteers.
“That’s what we live for,” said South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore, who had nine tackles and one of the Gamecocks’ seven sacks. “We talk about (how) we love that pressure. We love being on the field last at the end of the game.”
This marks the second straight week the Gamecocks have won as an underdog. Last week, South Carolina’s defense scored three touchdowns in a 48-22 triumph over Arkansas.
South Carolina (5-2, 3-2 SEC) didn’t force any turnovers Saturday, but its defense came up big when it mattered most as the Gamecocks erased a 9-3 halftime deficit.
After being completely shut down the entire second half, Tennessee’s offense reached South Carolina’s 2-yard line with nine seconds left before Jarrett Guarantano threw three straight incompletions to close the game.
Tennessee (3-3, 0-3 SEC) also settled for field goals after having first-and-goal on two separate drives in the first half. The Vols haven’t scored a touchdown in their last 10 quarters.
“When you play good red-zone defense, it’s going to give you a chance to win ballgames,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said.
Muschamp, who coached Florida from 2011-14, owns a career record of 6-0 against Tennessee and a 4-0 mark against Vols coach Butch Jones.
The Vols’ third loss in their last four games will turn up the pressure on Jones, who already was occupying one of the hottest seats in college football.
“I am proud of our players,” Jones said. “They hurt, but I think they showed their character, and we’ll continue to show our character.”
After White’s third field goal extended South Carolina’s lead to 15-9, Tennessee got the ball at its own 25 with 1:13 left and no timeouts.
Guarantano, making his first career start, threw a 39-yard pass to Brandon Johnson and three completions to Marquez Callaway that got Tennessee to the South Carolina 5. A pass interference penalty gave the Vols first-and-goal at the 2.
On first down, Guarantano threw the ball away under pressure. With only four seconds left, Taylor Stallworth broke up a Guarantano pass at the line of scrimmage. That play somehow only took three seconds, giving Tennessee one more chance. The game ended when Guarantano couldn’t connect with Johnson in the right corner of the end zone.
“I thought I had him,” Guarantano said. “Better throw, whatever I have to do. That was about it. I had to get out of the pocket and make a play.”
After reaching the 2, Tennessee never handed the ball to John Kelly, who started the day as the SEC’s second-leading rusher. South Carolina limited Kelly to 58 yards on 16 rushes, including just 12 yards on nine carries over the final three quarters.
“Did we think about handing the ball to John Kelly?” Jones said. “Yes we did. But with four seconds (left), that’s when we thought about it. And if you run the ball and you don’t get it, that’s the final play and you’re sitting here asking me why we handed the ball off.”
All of Tennessee’s points came on Brent Cimaglia field goals from 29, 33 and 24 yards away. Cimaglia normally shares Tennessee’s kicking duties with Aaron Medley, but an illness prevented Medley from playing Saturday.
South Carolina: The defense was mostly responsible for this victory, but South Carolina’s offense also deserves credit for regrouping after losing running back Rico Dowdle to an injury early. South Carolina scored on its last three series and had a 12-play, 95-yard touchdown drive as well as a 16-play, 72-yard series that ended with a field goal and lasted over nine minutes.
Tennessee: The Vols’ offense remains a mess. Tennessee ran 14 times for 100 yards in the first quarter but had 25 carries for 20 yards the rest of the way.
White entered the day 4 of 11 on field goals this season but made all three kicks he tried against Tennessee.
South Carolina failed to convert an extra point that would have put the Gamecocks ahead 10-9 late in the third quarter, but White wasn’t to blame. Holder Danny Gordon failed to handle a low snap from Ben Asbury and threw an incomplete pass.
Tennessee started Guarantano in place of Quinten Dormady to try awakening the Vols’ dormant offense. The redshirt freshman was 11 of 18 for 133 yards and also had 17 carries for minus-2 rushing yards. More than half his passing yards came in the final drive.
South Carolina has next week off before hosting Vanderbilt on Oct. 28.
Tennessee is at No. 1 Alabama.
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