QUARTERBACK (84): This grade may seem high since senior signal caller Casey Clausen had only 149 yards through the air on 13-of-22 attempts. However he threw a pair of beautiful short fade routes for TDs, exhibiting as fine a form as any seasoned pro. No one has to be reminded that the last one to James Banks settled the issue and demonstrated why Clausen is the Ice Man. Another good indicator was the fact Clausen didn't force passes when receivers were covered and he was harassed. He might have held the ball too long on a couple of occasions and abandoned the pocket too soon on a couple of others. He went to the ground too early on a third-down scramble in the fourth quarter that resulted in Tennessee coming up inches short of the first down. However, with no established backup on the team, Clausen's decision was the better part of valor. He remains a clutch performer with a deft touch and a great grasp of the game.
RUNNING BACKS (75): Sure 36 rushes for 117 net yards is pretty paltry but so was the blocking. Backs did a good job of hanging on to the ball and Houston (24 rushes for 86 yards) stepped up in overtime, gaining 21 yards to set up Tennessee's winning score. Houston missed holes a few times and seemed to develop tunnel vision once he broke the line of scrimmage. He tends to want to bounce everything outside. On an 11-yard run in the second quarter,he missed a bigger hole inside through which he could have had a big gain. His longest run on the night was 15 yards and he didn't make many tacklers miss. Of course, South Carolina had a lot of defenders swarming the ball and running room was generally limited, especially between the tackles. Jabari Davis finished with 12 yards on only four runs and wasn't used effectively in short yardage situations. Sophomore Gerald Riggs didn't see action as expected. Once he's healthy and coaches can get him some reps without the game being on the line, Riggs should start to live up to his bright promise. He has talent that can infuse the running game with much needed explosiveness, especially on the perimeter. Credit has to be given to South Carolina's defense for superb tackling, an achievement that was in sharp contrast to Tennessee's effort.
SECONDARY (70): Vols limited South Carolina to 12-of-30 and 154 yards through the air, but surrendered a couple of big completions that fueled one Gamecock scoring drive. DBs also committed a couple of costly pass interference penalties. They, like the rest of the defense, missed some tackles but starting secondary members Gibril Wilson, Rashad Baker, Jabari Greer and Antwan Stewart combined for 19 tackles which is only three less than Tennessee's highly touted starting linebacker corps. South Carolina had blazing speed at receiver and with the success of its running game could have hurt Tennessee worse than it did. Take away five points for blown coverage on S.C.'s first touchdown. Add five points for Brandon Johnson's INT at the end of the half. No Vol fan could have been comfortable when the Gamecocks were given an untimed play from midfield after offsetting penalties at the end of the first half. But Johnson prevented a miracle Hail Mary and came away with the game's only turnover.
LINEBACKERS (66): Not a good game by UT standards especially for outside backers Kevin Simon and Kevin Burnett who recorded only eight combined solo tackles and no sacks or turnovers. Take away several points for Burnett's dropped interception. However Burnett did apply good pressure on a couple of blitzes in key situations and middle LB Robert Peace led the Vols with 11 solo stops. South Carolina did a good job of accounting for Simon and Burnett and Detemtris Summers caused the pair to miss a few tackles with good moves. Part of S.C.'s success was due to its two-back formation which forced UT's outside linebackers to stay home on fakes instead of pursuing with impunity. You can be sure Auburn's offensive staff is looking closely at how the Gamecocks schemed Tennessee's outside backers. Omar Gaither made a big stop behind the line of scrimmage. What's happened to Jason Mitchell who started most of last season but didn't record a single tackle or assist against the Gamecocks?
DEFENSIVE LINE (59): This continues to be a problem area for the Vols and South Carolina was well armed and prepared to take advantage of it. Tennessee's down linemen got out of position to open big gains and were blown out of the middle on other plays. Also, the D-line failed to get much pressure on the passer with the exception of Parys Haralson who had no sacks but did get a couple of tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, those pluses were offset by a late hit on the quarterback that gave South Carolina a first down and his failure to stay at home when the Gamecocks opened the game with a reverse designed to take advantage of his aggressive tendencies. J.T. Mapu is a little light for a tackle but he plays full out and pursues the ball well. There's not much middle ground consistency with Mondre Dickerson who is conspicuous one play and invisible the next. A solid performance by Constantin Ritzmann who did a better job holding his end of the line against the Gamecocks power plays. Tennessee did a good job of limiting Dondrial Pinkins running opportunities and held the 245-pound QB to nine yards on six carries. Vols only had one sack in the game for four yards which is their lowest output on the year.
OFFENSIVE LINE (54): A disappointing performance by Tennessee's most experienced unit. When you take away 30 yards for holding penalties on runs, Tennessee finished with just 77 yards on 36 rushes. In fairness to the O-line there were more than a few times that UT simply didn't have the numbers to block the S.C. defenders swarming the ball, and the Gamecocks coaching staff appeared to have a real good gauge on when Tennessee would run. Vols had no success inside. Both sacks were coverage sacks in which the offensive line provided enough time for Clausen to find a receiver or get rid of the ball. Since Tennessee made personnel changes at guard, the lack of improvement on the inside running game is particularly perplexing. Not all the offensive problems can be laid on the line, but that's where it all starts. The ability of the Vols to improve this area of play will determine how far Tennessee can go this season.
RECEIVERS (51): Yes, this unit provided two of Tennessee's three touchdowns but overall this was the wide receivers' worst performance to this point of the season. The Vol wideouts had a difficult time getting off the line against press coverage and couldn't separate when they did get off cleanly. Moreover, the Vols receivers appeared to be physically overmatched when attempting to block down field and weren't able to break tackles after the catch. As long as Tennessee receivers are unable to take advantage of single coverage, opponents will continue to sell out against the run and the Vols will have few options offensively. Besides Tony Brown's catch on a deep slant for 30 yards, the Vols biggest gain through the air was 14 yards. The fact neither true freshman (Jayson Swain and Bret Smith) caught a pass in this contest is probably indicative of South Carolina's superior strength in the secondary. After seeing this tape expect defenses to get more physical with Tennessee as the season progresses.
OVERALL (71): This wasn't a winning performance by Tennessee but the bottom line is that the Vols won when they played poorly which is key to contending for any championship. South Carolina is probably underrated and caught the Vols at the ideal time between road games at Florida and Auburn and after the Gamecocks played a breather against UAB and before an off week. The fact UT didn't turn the ball over a single time probably saved this win along with as good a performance as any team could ever expect from its punter.