Tennessee's hero Saturday night had one of the most unfortunate jobs on the field, and that includes the player tasked with trying to bring down Jalen Hurd. Malik Foreman, the Vols' Clark Kent rushing out of the phone booth as he slips off his suit, was tasked with guarding Pharoh Cooper for most of the game. On top that, he became the unequivocal star of the show after stripping Gamecocks tight end Jerrell Allen of the ball as South Carolina drove inside the red zone for the winning score with less than a minute to play in the game.
"It meant a lot," coach Butch Jones said. "He 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. That was great to see Malik make that play and then us recover the fumble."
Foreman is such an unlikely hero because he was verging on being an unlikely starter in the first place. His position at the nickel spot was chased all week in practice by freshman Micah Abernathy, and coaches wouldn't definitively name Foreman the starter heading into the game. But the junior did start, and he forced a fumble that clinched an enormous win for Tennessee to put the program above .500 in November for the first time in six years.
“It is something that we work on every day,” Reeves-Maybin said. “We have our Maxim One periods every day, where we work on turnovers, recovering the ball and getting it out. It is something that is embedded in us. The guy carrying the ball didn’t see (Foreman) coming, and he punched it out.”
The 5-foot-10, 178-pound corner not only made the play of the game. Guarding Cooper, South Carolina's versatile threat who torched Tennessee last season for 233 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, was placed on the shoulders of Foreman for most of the game in the nickel. This time around, with Foreman's help, the Vols silenced one of the SEC's best wide receivers for just four catches, 47 yards and a score.
“They [South Carolina] do such a great job because they move him around and they create one-on-one matchups with him, and obviously we know he’s a great football player," Jones said. "I thought Malik really stepped up tonight, and everyone stepped up. I just think being disciplined, playing with your eyes, being locked in and video study, all those things that we’ve really challenged them to elevate their game, take their game to the next level, continue to invest in it in your week of preparation. they’ve been doing that.”
Foreman has been the ire of Tennessee fans for much of the 2015 season for his propensity to give up explosive plays. The Kingsport native was victimized against Florida for a 63-yard game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-14 in Gainesville earlier in the season.
On Saturday, it was he who ended the game with a bang.
“It says a lot," Jones said. "There’s a number of times where a team that isn’t learning how to win, you give up a big play, you give up a touchdown. When we needed a stop, they answered the call."