COLUMBIA, S.C. — No. 17/16 South Carolina came up with a pair of crucial defensive plays down the stretch to hold off Tennessee for a 38-35 victory on Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Volunteers drove inside the Gamecock 20-yard line with less than two minutes remaining in the contest. However, sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney sacked Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray on first and 10, forcing a fumble that was recovered by senior linebacker Shaq Wilson to end the threat. After the Tennessee defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession, sophomore cornerback Victor Hampton intercepted a deep pass by Bray with 23 seconds left to seal the win.
With the victory, the Gamecocks improve to 7-2 on the season and 5-2 in SEC play. It was South Carolina's third straight win over the Volunteers, who drop to 3-5 overall and 0-5 in the conference.
The game was an offensive showcase with the teams combining for 982 yards of total offense. The Gamecocks rolled up 510 yards of offense (363 passing, 147 rushing), which was their second highest total of the season, while the Volunteers finished the day with 472 yards (381 passing, 91 rushing).
Junior quarterback Connor Shaw put together one of his best performances as a Gamecock as he threw for a career-high 356 yards (22-of-32) and three touchdowns. He also added 33 yards and a score on the ground.
A trio of Gamecocks posted career highs in receiving yards. Junior Justice Cunningham hauled in six passes for 108 yards. Sophomore Bruce Ellington also caught six passes for 101 yards and a touchdown, and junior receiver Ace Sanders snagged five passes for 79 yards and a score. Sophomore tight end Rory Anderson also had a big day, catching three passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.
Junior running back Marcus Lattimore led the ground attack as he rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries before being carted off the field in the second quarter with a right leg injury.
Bray led the Tennessee offense, completing 27-of-43 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those touchdowns went to senior receiver Zach Rogers, who caught six passes for 107 yards.
The Gamecocks came out strong on both sides of the ball early. After the Carolina defense forced Tennessee into a three-and-out on the first possession of the game, Shaw guided the offense on a nine-play, 81-yard scoring drive on the ensuing possession. He went 4-for-4 on the drive and connected with Ellington for a 33-yard touchdown pass to give the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead with 9:24 left on the clock.
The Volunteers provided an answer on the next possession, as Bray completed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Rogers to cap a 10-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game at seven.
Shaw helped the Gamecocks regain the lead early in the second quarter as he led the offense on an eight-play, 53-yard scoring drive. He connected with Anderson for a 26-yard scoring strike, and Adam Yates drilled the extra point to give South Carolina a 14-7 lead with 11:27 left in the half.
The Gamecocks needed just four plays on their next possession to push their lead to 21-7. Lattimore broke free for a 28-yard touchdown run to finish off the drive that lasted just one minute and 32 seconds.
Tennessee wouldn't go away, however, as Bray found Rogers for a 37-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing possession to pull the Volunteers to with in 21-14.
South Carolina regained its two-touchdown advantage just before the half with a 10-play, 67-yard touchdown drive. With 14 seconds remaining, Shaw took the snap from the shotgun at the 1-yard line and strolled into the end zone off the left edge for a touchdown, giving the Gamecocks a 28-14 lead heading into the locker room.
Tennessee battled back early in the second half with a six-play scoring drive on its first possession of the third quarter. Bray completed a 61-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Dallas to trim South Carolina's lead to 28-21 with 11:22 on the clock.
After each team went three-and-out on the next two drives, the Gamecocks seemed to take control of the contest with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive late in the quarter that ate up five minutes and 42 seconds. Shaw found Sanders for a 24-yard scoring strike to cap the drive, giving South Carolina a 35-21 lead.
Tennessee responded once again with a lengthy scoring drive of its own, going 69-yard in 10 plays. On first and 10 from the Gamecock 13, Alton Howard lined up at quarterback for the Volunteers, rolled right and found Mychal Rivera for a 13-yard touchdown pass to pull Tennessee to within 35-28 at the 14:55 mark of the fourth quarter.
After South Carolina pushed its lead to 38-28 with a 36-yard field goal by Yates, the Volunteers cut it to 38-35 on the ensuing possession. Rogers hauled in his third touchdown reception of the day, this time a 22-yarder, to pull to within a field goal.
However, it was as close as Tennessee would get, as Clowney's forced fumble and Hampton's interception on the Volunteer's next two possessions ended any threat of a comeback.
South Carolina has next week off before returning to action at home on Nov. 10 in a SEC matchup with Arkansas.