Tennessee report card: Vols did just enough to hang on
It looked like the same ol’ Vols for just long enough to make fans sweat. After taking a 17-0 lead over South Carolina, Tennessee allowed the Gamecocks to climb back in the game.
Memories of blown double-digit leads to Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas resurfaced as the Vols allowed South Carolina to tie the score twice and hang around until a timely fumble secured the 27-24 victory. Here are the grades Tennessee deserved for Saturday’s performance:
The Vols took control early and seemed ready to blow out the Gamecocks. Things slowed in the second quarter, though, partly because of a foot injury to Joshua Dobbs. The junior quarterback stayed in the game but wasn’t the same running threat he’s been when the Vols have been at their best. Still, Dobbs completed 20-of-34 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also made clutch throws in the second half. However, Dobbs has to better protect the ball. He had two fumbles Saturday, losing one, and has had a handful of fumbles in the last three games.
Running back Jalen Hurd was his usual self, posting 90 tough yards on 23 carries. However, the running game just wasn’t there in the second half, when the Vols posted just 17 yards on 17 carries. Alvin Kamara had four carries for 30 yards and a touchdown in the game. He also caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown. However, his fumble set up a South Carolina touchdown.
Receiver Von Pearson caught eight passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. Josh Malone dropped what would have been a touchdown when the ball fell through his arms. Josh Smith dropped a pass early but rebounded with three catches for 42 yards and broke up a potential interception.
Defensive back Malik Foreman made a clutch play to force a fumble when South Carolina was driving late in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who recovered the fumble, also forced a fumble and tied for the team lead with nine tackles.
Safety Brian Randolph’s penalty was inexcusable. The senior delivered a late, high hit that resulted in his ejection. He’s the leader of the secondary, and the Vols struggled without him.
The Vols had eight tackles for a loss: Foreman had two, defensive end Derek Barnett had two (including a sack) and defensive tackle Owen Williams had three.
Tennessee’s defense allowed South Carolina back in the game, but it tightened up late to preserve the victory.
Special Teams: B
Some might view it as a letdown that the Vols didn’t score on special teams, as they did twice against Kentucky last week. However, the kicking was a positive on Saturday.
Kicker Aaron Medley seems back to his consistent self. The sophomore converted both of his field goal attempts, from 44 and 27 yards.
Cameron Sutton had a nice 26-yard punt return. Evan Berry had two kick returns for 49 yards. It was obvious that South Carolina made it a point to limit return yardage.
The Vols were explosive early in the game with a nice mixture of passing plays that attacked the entire field. Tennessee’s defense looked as if it knew where South Carolina was going with the ball early in the game. Credit Tennessee’s coaches with getting South Carolina to jump offside on a fourth-and-1.
However, the Vols seemed to get conservative too early, like they had in previous losses this season. Tennessee did just enough to win the game but it shouldn’t have been this close.
There was a backlash against Tennessee’s team, especially its coaches, during and after the game on message boards and talk shows. Fans believed that the Vols should have blown out South Carolina given how easy things looked in the first half.
It’s time to be realistic. This team is not at that point yet. The Vols should be lauded for not playing their best and still winning an SEC game. That’s progress.
It wasn’t pretty nor exciting, but it was a win.