They may not get the attention LSU or Alabama, but the South Carolina defense is pretty dang good. South Carolina held Tennessee to under 200 total yards of offense and came up with big play after big play in a 14-3 win over the Vols Saturday night in Knoxville.
"Our defense was super," head coach Steve Spurrier said after the game. "The keys to the game were obviously to hold them after we dropped the punt – we hold them to a field goal. The interception (D.J. Swearinger), then the next time around Stephon got the pick. So we had three huge defensive stands. They had three chances to score."
After holding the Volunteers to a three and out on the first drive of the game, Ace Sanders muffed a punt that was recovered by Tennessee on the Carolina 18-yard line. Tennessee would move inside the five, but could not punch it in and was forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
The defense would tighten up again at the end of the first quarter. Tennessee put a seven-play drive together that started in South Carolina territory. Tennessee lined up to go for it on a fourth and one from the Carolina 20, but a false start pushed them back and forced the Vols to bring the field goal unit back out. Another false start pushed them back five more yards and the 47-yard field goal attempt was deflected by Stephon Gilmore.
The biggest defensive play came early in the third quarter. After Connor Shaw was intercepted on the opening drive of the half by Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee took over from the South Carolina two yard line. After a nice stop by Travian Robertson in the backfield on first down, D.J Swearinger made his second diving interception in as many games to give the Gamecocks the ball.
"D.J. is playing good for us," cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. "He's a great player, he watches film all the time, and he anticipates."
That could have turned out to be a 14-point swing as Carolina marched down the field to score the final touchdown of the game.
"They score there and it's 10-7 them," Spurrier said. "That was a huge turnaround. Good things have happened to us this year and hopefully we will continue to have good things happen to us."
According to assistant head coach Ellis Johnson, Swearinger should not have been there. He was just in the right place at the right time.
"The crazy thing on that play is that we were playing a coverage where the safety and linebacker play two different holes, and they had to adjust really quick because they got confused on alignment," Johnson said. "He actually ended up on the wrong side and it was good that he did. I don't think a linebacker could have made that play."
The results for the Tennessee team – and fans – were devastating. Not only did they fail to put the ball in the end zone to grab the lead, but the offense was forced to sit on the sideline for nearly the entire third quarter.
"That was a big deal at that time," Johnson said. "They got the ball on the three yard line and all of a sudden we put 98 yards on them. It's deflating."
Gilmore would be the player that would drive the final nail into the Volunteer casket. After Brandon Wilds fumbled the ball at the 28-yard line, Gilmore picked off a Justin Worley pass in the endzone that was intended for Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee's biggest receiving threat.
"I knew they were going to try and throw it to him because they'd been throwing it to him the whole game," Gilmore said. "He gave me a fake to the outside and I went inside and made a play on the ball."
Carolina's defense allowed just 10 first downs, held the Vols to 35 yards rushing on 21 carries, and just 186 total yards. The two interceptions give the Gamecocks 26 turnovers on the season with four regular season games remaining.
"Our defense is doing very well," Spurrier said. "We don't want to do anything (offensively) to give up a score – we almost did."
South Carolina's 20-play, 98-yard drive that ate 11:35 off the clock set two highs in the Spurrier era at Carolina. The 20 plays were the most plays in a single drive and the time off the clock was the longest drive in Spurrier's tenure. In fact, Spurrier can recall only one other time in his coaching career where he had a 20 plus play drive.
"I've only had one other one in my life," Spurrier said. "It happened right here in 1982, Duke University versus Tennessee. We took it from the one-yard line to the other one-yard line and killed the clock there to win."
Third down dominance
The key to winning football games is to win the third down battle. South Carolina did just that Saturday night on both sides of the ball. South Carolina was 10-of-18 on third downs, while limiting the Vols to just 2-of-14.
• The Gamecocks have surrendered the first points in all eight games this season and 11 straight games dating back to last year. Carolina is 8-3 in those contests. The last time South Carolina scored first in a game was against Troy on Nov. 20, 2010.
• With Saturday's victory, South Carolina has won its last six "true" road games, which is a school record. The Gamecocks won at Vanderbilt, Florida and Clemson to close out the 2010 season. Carolina has claimed victories at Georgia, Mississippi State and now Tennessee this season.
• Saturday's win was South Carolina's second all-time in Knoxville. The Gamecocks are now 14-2 at Tennessee.
• Head coach Steve Spurrier is 13-8 all-time against Tennessee, including a 4-3 mark as head coach of the Gamecocks
• Saturday's win was No. 550 all-time for South Carolina. The Gamecocks are now 550-542-44 all-time.
• Freshman running back Brandon Wilds made his first career start in Saturday's game.
• Wilds amassed a career-high 137 yards rushing on 28 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
• Wilds finished the night with 168 yards of total offense as he also had a career-high 31 yards receiving.
• Freshman tight end Rory Anderson hauled in 23-yard touchdown pass from Connor Shaw in second quarter for first career touchdown reception. Anderson entered the night with three receptions for 67 yards.
• The Gamecocks put together the longest scoring drive of the season with a 20-play, 98-yard drive that chewed up 11 minutes and 35 seconds of the third-quarter clock. The drive ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Connor Shaw to give Carolina a 14-3 lead. The drive is the third longest scoring drive by yards in school history and is the longest scoring drive by time by two minutes and 33 seconds, breaking the previous record of 9:02 set against Troy (11/20/10). The Gamecocks have two scoring drives of 99 yards in school history, accomplishing the feat against Arkansas (11/4/06) and Vanderbilt (10/24/09).
• Wilds and Shaw carried the load on Carolina's 98-yard drive. Wilds rushed for 51 yards on the drive, while Shaw added 33 yards on the ground, including a 5-yard touchdown run to cap the drive.
• Shaw improves to 4-0 as the Gamecocks' starting quarterback, making him just the third quarterback in Carolina in the last 30 years to start his career with four straight wins. Steve Taneyhill (1992) and Chris Smelley (2007) also accomplished the feat.
• Junior receiver Alshon Jeffery caught three passes for 17 yards, leaving him 33 yards shy of tying Kenny McKinley (2,781) as the school's all-time leader in receiving yards.
• Freshman defensive tackle Kelsey Quarles made his first career start on Saturday.
• Junior defensive back D.J. Swearinger intercepted a Justin Worley pass at the Carolina 2-yard line early in the third quarter to move into a tie for the team lead with three interceptions on the season.
• The Gamecocks have recorded 16 interceptions this season, including 12 over their last four games. The school record for interceptions is 23, which has been set three times: 1981, 1984 and 1987.
• South Carolina has forced 26 turnovers on the season, recovering 10 fumbles and recording 16 interceptions. The Gamecocks entered the contest tied with Oklahoma State for second in the nation in turnovers gained. Carolina's best season under head coach Steve Spurrier in forcing turnovers was in 2008, when it forced 27 turnovers. The school record for turnovers gained in a season is 29, set in the 12-game 1987 campaign.
• Junior defensive back Stephon Gilmore picked off a Justin Worley pass in the end zone at the 12:19 mark of the fourth quarter to move into a tie for the team lead with three interceptions this season.
• South Carolina's defense has been stellar over the last six contests, as it has allowed only 58 points, which is an average of 9.7 points per game.
• Saturday marks the third time this season the Gamecock defense has held a team to less than 200 yards of total offense. The Gamecocks held Tennessee to 186 yards on Saturday. Carolina held Vanderbilt (77) and Kentucky (96) below 100 yards earlier in the season.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
• Stephon Gilmore blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt by Tennessee's Michael Palardy in the first quarter, marking the first time South Carolina has blocked a field goal since its 2009 matchup with the Vols in Knoxville.
Notebook: Defense stands tall
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