Newton Reflects on Loss to Volunteers
Newton was responsible for all three of Carolina's touchdowns, throwing for two and running for another. His ability to escape from pressure kept countless plays alive. He finished the game with 85 yards rushing on 14 carries, only a few of which were called runs. He passed for another 230 yards, but also threw three interceptions. Even though the interceptions were not necessarily Newton's fault, they weighed heavily on his mind as he spoke after the game.
"I made two mistakes, and threw three interceptions," Newton said. "I put it on me. I take the blame. The line blocked well tonight. We just fell short. There were a couple plays we could have made and a couple plays I wish we didn't make that cost us the game. They're a great team; you can't take nothing away from them."
The most painful mistake came on the Gamecocks' second drive. After driving the length of the field, Carolina had 3rd and 4 from the Volunteers 5-yard line. Newton scrambled and tried to dump a pass to Cory Boyd, who was standing uncovered in the end zone. However, the ball was tipped by a Tennessee defender, and then again by Boyd, before being intercepted by Jonathan Wade. Even after the game, Newton was still shaking his head about what transpired, unable to figure out exactly how it happened. "When I scrambled, I saw Cory. I think one of the guys got his hand on it. I just tried to make a play, and unfortunately it got picked off."
Carolina regrouped from the disappointment, and eventually took a 17-14 lead in the third quarter behind nearly flawless play from Newton. His first touchdown pass showcased exactly why Spurrier wanted Newton to play quarterback. The Volunteers got pressure, collapsing the pocket, but Newton escaped and rolled to his right. Unlike the Newton of two years ago, who would have immediately taken off, he kept his eyes downfield. Newton eventually spotted Mike West open in the end zone, and lasered a pass between two Tennessee defenders for West's first career touchdown catch.
While the reporters huddled around him all wanted to know how he made the play, Newton instead sang the praises of West. "Mike West has been battling a hamstring injury all year. He's a fast guy, and we're just getting him back in the offense and giving him a chance to show how he can be a playmaker and help the offense. We've just got to involve him more and involve everybody more. Sidney (Rice) and Kenny (McKinley) are great players, but we can take pressure off those guys by getting other people involved." What Newton did not mention is that the need for a talented third receiver is actually caused by Newton himself, who had a stranglehold on the position before moving into the backfield.
Despite giving up more yardage than they would have liked, Tennessee came up big on defense when it mattered. The Volunteers kept Newton from making a backbreaking big play, and got stops on critical third downs. Newton had a simple explanation for each. "I'm pretty sure they gameplanned," he said with a smile. However, he was less effusive about the Tennessee pass defense on a critical third down play in the fourth quarter where Sidney Rice appeared to be blatantly held. "Everybody could see that there was really pass interference," he said. "That's not really why we lost; we can't use that as an excuse."
Amidst all the talk about how well he played, Newton was much more concerned with the fact that Carolina lost. He was proud of how the team came back after falling behind 14-0, but admitted the hole was too much to overcome. "First we were down, and then we fought back and got back in the game and took the lead. We felt like we had the momentum, but it switched back to them. We went down two touchdowns again, and it's hard in one quarter to make up two touchdowns." The Gamecocks had one last chance to tie the game, getting the ball down 7 with a minute to play. However, Newton was very disappointed in how the offense executed on the final drive. "I felt like we had a chance," he said. "We didn't look prepared for that drive, and it showed. We've just got to work on that. We've got to get better. They're good, but we're good too. A lot of good teams lose, and a lot of good teams win. We just lost."
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