CORY GUNKEL'S TAKE
Blowing a 17-point lead is as Tennessee as smoking a Marlboro Red in the Smoky Mountains wearing checkered overalls. It's as if I've copied and pasted this sentence into my IT's Take 1,343 times this season. Tennessee took a double-digit lead on an opponent. Tennessee collapsed to allow that double-digit lead to waste away.
Only this time, the Vols found a way to win. It was a refreshing change from the previous duds and a sign that this Tennessee team, despite its flaws, does have the ability to close things out and is learning how to do it. Butch Jones' team absolutely stormed out of the gate, scoring twice in about six minutes to take a commanding 14-0 lead in the first quarter. But like all good things, it came to an end after the Vols failed to continue the positive energy it harvested in those first few minutes. The offense looked sluggish for most of the game until it counted. Josh Malone Reggie Davis'd one of the best throws I've ever seen Josh Dobbs make, and the running game combined for a whopping 17 yards in the second half agains the worst run defense in the SEC. Dobbs' designed runs were limited in this game, and the offense never established a real rhythm after the first two drives. At one point in the second half, Tennessee was outgaining 400-283 yet was only up three points. That's the kind of thing Team 119 has to avoid to continue winning, but the offense did enough to win. Von Pearson showed up and showed out, notching 121 yards and a touchdown in the air to serve as Tennessee's biggest offensive threat. ATTENTION: Tennessee has a passing game. The Vols' defense played decently well until the second half, albeit without Brian Randolph, who was ejected for targeting in the first quarter, and Emmanuel Moseley (for the first half) after he was ejected from last week's game for the same thing. The D held South Carolina to 6-of-17 on third down and recorded two sacks on the deceptively shifty Perry Orth. The D lost its footing in the fourth quarter and bent mightily on the final drive before Malik Foreman and Jalen Reeves-Maybin combined to save the game. Aaron Medley has rebounded about as well as you could ask him to after the ofer game vs. Alabama, connecting on two field goals Saturday to help give his team the win, and the return game was once again great.
In the end, despite the blown lead and relaxed style of play after going up by double digits, Tennessee won the game. That's obviously huge after what transpired on this very field against Oklahoma in September. My good friend and Four Quarters Radio producer/correspondent/confidant Seth Hughes dug up this gem: Tonight's win gives Tennessee a winning record in November for the first time since 2009. Can we institute a run-rule next week for Tennessee against North Texas?
Special teams: A
DANNY PARKER'S TAKE
Not exactly how Tennessee drew it up but there's no such thing as an ugly win.
The hot start and 17-point lead had me thinking the Volunteers were going to cruise to a blowout over South Carolina but they wound up needing a second field goal from Aaron Medley to get the 27-24 victory.
Given how well Tennessee played in some losing results earlier in the year, there's not a fan in Big Orange Country that should be complaining and the opportunity to close out the season with five straight wins is intact.
Statistically, I definitely expected far more than 153 rushing yards for the home standing Vols but the offensive front is a M.A.S.H. unit and junior guard Dylan Wiesman returned to the game after being on the Shields-Watkins Field turf for some time, pointing to his left shoulder/upper arm.
Joshua Dobbs impressed at times and the deep pass over the top of the defense to Josh Malone was gorgeous. Malone has to make that catch, especially when he wasn't getting many targets. Von Pearson stepped up in a major way with career highs in receptions (8) and receiving yards (121). The time of possession was evenly split over the four quarters but the visitors too the advantage in each frame.
Said earlier in the week that Vols linebackers Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Jalen Reeves-Maybin needed to have a big game. The duo combined for 18 tackles (13 solo) with the junior from Clarksville registering a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Derek Barnett looked like an All-SEC defensive end, totaling eight tackles with two tackles for loss and a sack.
Teams-wise, South Carolina did as solid of a job as anyone this year keeping Vols kick returner Evan Berry in check as the sophomore returned to kicks for 49 yards. Medley boomed four touchbacks in six attempts and had two solid looking field goals. Cap tip to the Lewisburg native for getting some corrections made after a tough October. Trevor Daniel was again big as the Dickson product averaged 44.2 yards per punt.
Special teams: A-
JOSH WOODWARD'S TAKE
Well, it was tough, but good to see Tennessee finish this game. Looks like after the first quarter Tennessee slept through the rest of the game until the fourth quarter.
Offensively, the Vols looked great the first two drives but really struggled the rest of the game. The deep passing game has really improved, but the drop by Josh Malone in the end zone in the fourth quarter can't happen. That ball was perfectly thrown by Joshua Dobbs. Not being able to run the ball is concerning against this Gamecock defense, but again, it looked liked the team wasn't fired up for this one.
Defensively it was a struggle. I thought South Carolina put it all out there offensively to try to win this game. The Vols allowed a whopping 23 first downs and 385 yards against an offense that has struggled all season. I think they came into this game not with the fire we have seen from this team the last two matchups. I do like, however, how they fought this one out to win.
I'm proud of my Lewisburg native Aaron Medley. He has caught a lot of heat this season, but the kid was clutch today. He won it for the Vols. Trevor Daniel with another good day and the return teams did what we have seen them do all year.
Overall a win is a win, but you can call it a sloppy win. That's what you expect from a young team.