COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tennessee failed its biggest test of the season, coming off a bye week and facing a must-win situation at South Carolina on Saturday.
The No. 18-ranked vols (5-3, 2-3 SEC) fell to the two-touchdown underdog Gamecocks, 24-21, at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Here’s a look at how Tennessee graded out:
It was Josh Dobbs’ worst performance (12 of 26, 161 yards) since the opener against Appalachian State, but in fairness he didn’t have much support. Dobbs threw 2 interceptions that South Carolina converted into touchdowns, but his fumble was more on account of a tailback being out of position.
Running backs: B
John Kelly was a bright spot, rushing for 94 yards on 14 carries. Jalen Hurd was not as successful, finishing with 16 yards on 8 carries. Freshman Carlin Fils-Aime did not get a carry, but he collided with Dobbs on a run-pass option, leading to a fumble.
Wide receivers: D
Jauan Jennings had a 6-yard TD catch, but that was one of very few highlights on a night filled with drops. Freshman Tyler Byrd had a drop, as did Jennings, Josh Smith and Ethan Wolf. Josh Malone had a block in the back that nullified a 49-yard Dobbs TD run.
Offensive line: D
The starters were back, but it was anything but a healthy performance. The line struggled to get a push in short-yardage situations, and the pass protection was inadequate. Dobbs was sacked twice and it could have been more if not for his elusiveness and him throwing the ball away.
Defensive line: B-
Derek Barnett had 3 sacks, easily compensating for the occasion he was called offsides in the first quarter. Corey Vereen also recorded a sack. Kendal Vickers was forced into several snaps at defensive tackle because of injuries, and he made 7 tackles. Kyle Phillips had 5 stops and a tackle-for-loss working at tackle. Another zero-tackle night for Jonathan Kongbo.
Tennessee won’t win many games with its linebackers playing average, but Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Colton Jumper both looked out of sync and missed tackles on the perimeter. Kirkland Jr. had 8 tackles, but he missed a key tackle on a 40-yard run. Jumper had only 3 stops and appeared ineffective.
Freshman Baylen Buchanan wasn’t ready to play, committing 2 pass interference penalties in the first quarter. Justin Martin stepped in and played adequate. Todd Kelly Jr. had a sack, but play at the other safety position was spotty. True freshman Nigel Warrior was pressed into action with Evan Berry suffering an undisclosed injury and had a coverage bust on a touchdown.
Special teams: B
Evan Berry’s 100-yard kick return for a touchdown was the highlight, though Trevor Daniel’s 49-yard punt average was impressive. Marquill Osborne had a punt muff that cost UT 20 yards in field position, and Cortez McDowell inexplicably knocked a punt that was resting at the 1 into the South Carolina end zone.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones must regroup his team, and that could mean some hard personnel decisions moving forward. The Vols have a chemistry issue, and the focus needs to be on the remainder of this season with a team-first mentality. It’s not a matter of the play calls or the schemes. The players didn’t show much passion or focus, and South Carolina outplayed and out-efforted Tennessee.