The best way to predict someone's future behavior is to analyze their past behavior. So when Tennessee (5-4, 3-3) went up 17-0 on South Carolina with five minutes remaining in the second quarter, you knew it was only a matter of time before that lead slowly withered away.
Only this time, the past wasn't wholly indicative of the future.
Nursing a three-point lead with the Gamecocks methodically driving, quarterback Perry Orth found a streaking Jerell Adams over the middle of the field, who bullied his way after the catch for 25 yards. But right before he went down, cornerback Malik Foreman defied recent history, stripping the ball away from Adams before it was pounced on by Jalen Reeves-Maybin to seal a 27-24 Tennessee win and prevent yet another double-digit collapse.
"It meant a lot," Jones said of the game-winning play. "(Foreman) found a way to come up and really make a game-winning turnover, create one - and then the pursuit to the ball. Again, I think we've relied heavily on our experiences early on in the season. Our kids never lost their poise. They never looked back and said what-ifs. They're playing with a lot of confidence."
It looked like the Vols were about to run away with the game early on, needing just three minutes to strike first with a 4-yard touchdown scamper by Alvin Kamara. Tennessee got the ball back soon after and punched it in for the second consecutive time when Josh Dobbs found Von Pearson for a 37-yard touchdown with 7:56 to play in the first quarter.
But that's when the offense began to lose its steam. In Tennessee's next six drives, it fumbled twice, threw an interception and kicked a 44-yard field goal to snag the 17-0 lead it would soon lose. South Carolina tacked on a field goal for its first points of the game with 1:03 to play in the second quarter, and the two teams would switch roles coming out of halftime.
After outgaining the Gamecocks 259-114 in the first half, the Vols relinquished 14 unanswered points to allow South Carolina to tie the game. Tennessee took a brief lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara, but South Carolina answered right back with a 5-yard touchdown catch from Pharoh Cooper to tie the game.
Cooper, who was mostly shadowed by Malik Foreman all night, was held to just four catches for 47 yards and a score.
“They (South Carolina) do such a great job because they move him (Cooper) around and they create one-on-one matchups with him and obviously we know he’s a great football player. I thought Malik really stepped up tonight and everyone stepped up."
Tennessee put together a 2:48 drive that ended in a 27-yard field goal to reclaim the lead with 9:14 to play, and the onus was put firmly on the defense to hold the lead — a task it would complete in the most dramatic fashion.
South Carolina marched quite easily from its own 24 to Tennessee's 13 before Foreman's forced fumble sealed the win for the Vols. The victory gives Tennessee its first winning record in November since 2009 and proves one thing — some history doesn't repeat itself.
“I think this game will be huge for a learning aspect," left tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. "We didn’t win the way we wanted to, and that was on us. That was our mistakes, our mess-ups. We can watch the film and really learn from this game, and really understand our weaknesses and our strengths, and be able to get better as a team, which is what you want to do with games like these.”