Ironically, Tennessee's second touchdown came on a five-yard pass that was deflected by a pair of S.C. DBs before settling into the sure hands of Bret Smith. Those three passes represented a 21-point swing or the difference between UT leading 14-0 and trailing 7-0.
South Carolina would overcome the deficit over the next three quarters, but it could never make up the difference those critical early plays created. Maybe Steve Spurrier was right when he said this was a game South Carolina wasn't meant to win.
Here's the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-South Carolina game. Grades of 90-100 are regarded as championship quality. Grades of 80-89 equate to top 25 worthy, grades of 70-79 are winning marks. Grades of 60-69 are passing but problematical and won't be good enough to defeat a quality opponent. Any grade below 60 is considered failing. Special teams are included among defensive ratings but they aren't factored into the defense's total score. An opponent degree of difficulty (between 1 and 10) has been added to the formula.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY (8.5) DEFENSIVE BACKS (94) The aforementioned big plays put UT's secondary at the head of the defensive pack. Add another INT by Demetrice Morley on the game's final play to the list of DB contributions. Overall the Vols held South Carolina to 16-of-30 passing for 230 yards and two touchdowns. That's hardly shutting down Spurrier's air attack, but it was effective coverage considering the amount of time Newton could buy with his mobility along with the fact the Vols didn't record any sacks. UT's secondary was also physical and held sensational sophomore wideout Sidney Rice to three catches for 52 yards and no TDs. Ricardo Kemp saw more playing time than usual and finished with seven tackles (five solo). Antonio Wardlow got his first career start, filling in for Morley who served a first half suspension, and contributed four tackles (three solo). Wade had the interception along with two pass breakups, and often drew the difficult assignment of covering Rice one-on-one. Marsalous Johnson also saw more playing time and had a solo stop. It was especially encouraging to see the Vols get more DBs significant reps. Antwan Stewart had two stops and a pass breakup, while Jonathan Hefney had two tackles and was a special teams standout.
LINEBACKERS (89) Big games by Marvin Mitchell and Jerod Mayo were essential to the success of UT's defense. Mayo recorded a game high nine tackles (six solo) with a quarterback hurry and a stop behind the line of scrimmage. Mitchell had eight stops (five solo) with the interception for a 17-yard TD and a QB hurry. Ryan Karl only had one tackle but broke up a pair of passes. UT ran more nickel and dime packages than usual which limited the use of linebackers. Neither Rico McCoy or Adam Myers-White has earned significant playing time at linebacker, although McCoy (one tackle) is a mainstay on special teams.
DEFENSIVE LINE (82) The Vols were a little soft in the center against the run and didn't get the type of push in the middle that was needed to disrupt Newton's rhythm. Containment was also an issue among the D-line as Newton racked up 85 yards in 14 carries or 6.1 yards per carry. Obviously, there aren't many QBs with Newton's mobility and he posed problems beyond mere mobility. Defensive end Antonio Reynolds finished the game with five tackles (four solo) while Robert Ayers and Xavier Mitchell finished with three each. Redshirt freshman Wes Hall had a solo tackle and pressured Newton on a couple of twists. Turk McBride and Matt McGlothlin had three stops each at tackle, and Demonte Bolden added two stops in his most extensive action this season.
OVERALL (88) South Carolina with Newton at QB, Rice at WR and Spurrier calling plays presents a variety of unique problems for any defense. The Gamecocks racked up 23 first downs and 395 yards against the Vols while converting 5 of 12 times on third down. Still the Vols stopped both of S.C.'s fourth down attempts and forced three vital turnovers. A power running team could be tough for the Vols to stop, and they will face one when they travel to Arkansas in two weeks. Still this is a fast and versatile defense that appears able to adjust on the fly.
SPECIAL TEAMS (90) Think of all the big plays special teams have generated the last three games against Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina and it makes you appreciate the importance of extensive preparation in the kicking game. If UT could eliminate some of the mistakes and penalties they would have won the S.C. game with little help from the offense. A fumble recovery by the Vols on punt coverage was wiped out because of a flag, and Robert Meachem fumbled the ball on a punt return. Outside of those errors, UT's special teams play was outstanding. James Wilhoit knocked through all of his extra point attempts through along with his lone field goal attempt. He also kept the Gamecocks backed up with booming kickoffs into the end zone or high kicks that allowed coverage to swarm the returns. Britton Colquitt averaged 44.2 yards on four punts with three landing inside S.C.'s 20. His 56-yard effort that rolled out at the 1 yard-line would have brought a smile to the General's face not to mention his father, brother and uncle. Hefney's 65-yard return to the South Carolina 5 was a momentum swinging play and a key to victory.