Punt team dooms, then seals Tennessee’s season-opening win
The Vols left Columbia with a win for the first time since 2014.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WVLT) - The Vols left Columbia with a win for the first time since 2014 thanks to a late special teams error by South Carolina.
Tennessee drove 75 yards in just four plays thanks to two 30+ yard passes to Brandon Johnson and Josh Palmer. The Vols re-take the touchdown lead, 31-24.
South Carolina and Tennessee traded three-and-out drives before Will Muschamp decided to kick a 45-yard field goal instead of going for it on 4th and long.
Tennessee put the game away with 1:29 to play when Paxton Brooks' punt was touched by a Gamecock receiver. Freshman Jimmy Holliday recovered the fumble and the Vols bled out the rest of the clock in victory formation.
Tennessee started the second half with the ball and moved it down the field with much more efficiency this drive. Eric Gray capped off the eight-play, 74 yard drive with an 11-yard delayed handoff up the middle and into the South Carolina end zone to put the Vols ahead 21-7.
Shi Smith continued his big night against the Vols with a 29-yard touchdown catch to bring South Carolina back within a score, 21-14. Smith has eight catches for 113 yards and a score.
Velus Jones set Tennessee up on its own 43-yard line after his first solid return of the season. The Vols were able to get into field goal position, but Brent Cimaglia’s first attempt of the year went wide left.
South Carolina took over at their own 29-yard line following the missed field goal and drove the rest of the way in ten plays to tie the game up at 21.
The Vols responded by driving 65 yards in just eight plays, but the drive stalled in the red zone and Cimaglia came on to give Tennessee another lead, 24-21.
Tennessee’s top returning tackler scored the team’s second touchdown of the season early in the second quarter. Henry To’o To’o intercepted a tipped Collin Hill pass and kept his balance down the sideline to put UT up 14-7 at the half.
South Carolina received the opening kickoff and made quick work to find the end zone first. First-year offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and Colorado State transfer Collin Hill drove the Gamecocks 75 yards in 11 plays that took a little more than five minutes off the clock.
Tennessee’s first offensive possession didn’t last long - the Vols ran just six plays for 13 yards and were forced to punt. South Carolina native Paxton Brooks bobbled the punt snap and tried to pass the ball to an ineligible receiver. The Gamecocks set up their second drive from the Tennessee 38-yard line.
Tennessee’s defense tightened up in its second drive, forcing a South Carolina 3-and-out and negative yardage, which forced the Gamecocks out of field goal territory.
Jarrett Guarantano was able to break off some nice chunk plays in the Vols' second offensive drive. Brandon Johnson hauled in a one-handed catch along the sideline to set Tennessee up in South Carolina territory for the first time. Guarantano later dumped a pass off to Eric Gray, who picked up 30 yards to get the Vols inside the five yard line. Jim Chaney called the senior signal caller’s number on the next play - a quarterback sneak over the top to tie the game at 7.
It’s finally football time in Tennessee! After an offseason unlike any other, 16th-ranked Volunteers travel to South Carolina to kick off the 2020 season. It’s the season opener in a 10-game conference only schedule for the Vols.
Tennessee is eyeing a second straight win over South Carolina after an impressive 41-21 win in Neyland stadium last season.
The Vols' six-game win streak started against South Carolina and was capped off by a comeback win over Indiana in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
Saturday’s game will be the first time Tennessee has opened a season with a true road game since facing UCLA in Pasadena on Sept. 1, 2008.
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