Since a number of Vol defenders played through an assortment of physical problems, head coach Phillip Fulmer noted on his post-game show that "seven or eight guys showed great courage, fought their ass off to get back out there and, to their credit, played darned well tonight ... played well enough to win that football game tonight. It was a really good effort by our defensive football team."
With the loss, Tennessee slumps to 3-6 overall and 1-5 in SEC play. The victory improves South Carolina to 5-3 overall and 3-3 in conference action.
Like the five Vol losses that preceded this one, Tennessee's offense was a study in futility. The Big Orange surrendered six sacks and managed a paltry 207 yards of total offense. Tennessee converted on just 3 of 14 third-down opportunities and, as a result, had to punt nine times. The Vols also failed twice on fourth-down conversions.
Acknowledging "the frustration of not being able to execute better offensively in a consistent manner," Fulmer added that "The inefficiency of our offense has really just been mind-boggling. I know when you play a young quarterback some of that happens, but it's just been too big a struggle."
Sophomore QB Stephens was so shaky (10 of 24, 134 yards) that backup Jonathan Crompton (5 of 8, 39 yards) played a couple of series in the second quarter.
Asked if the quarterback job is now up for grabs, Fulmer hedged.
"We'll talk about that," he said. "Anything's on the table at this particular point. I don't think Jon did just super when he went in, either. It (quarterback play) is a problem, and we'll try to figure out how we can win these last three ball games."
South Carolina's quarterback play wasn't exactly stellar, either. Redshirt freshman starter Stephen Garcia was 9 of 19 for 139 yards, while backup Chris Smelley was 1 of 1 for 15 yards. The Gamecock offense converted on just 4 of 17 third-down tries and managed a mere 255 total yards. Unlike UT's offense, however, it didn't give the game away with turnovers.
South Carolina zoomed 82 yards on its second possession to take a 7-0 lead – Garcia hitting running back Mike Davis with a 12-yard touchdown pass.
Stoney Woodson picked off Stephens – who had thrown 107 passes this fall without an interception – on the first play of the second quarter and single-handedly boosted the lead to 14-0. Moments later Captain Munnerlyn returned Creer's fumble to the 4-yard line, setting up a TD pass from Garcia to Kenny McKinley that widened the gap to 21-0.
Tennessee twice threatened to make a game of it in the third quarter but each time turned the ball over on downs. The first time came when Stephens missed Lucas Taylor on a fourth-and-three pass at the SC 24-yard line. The second time came after a 31-yard the Gamecocks' Ryan Succop field goal and a one-yard touchdown run by UT's Arian Foster had nudged the score to 24-6. Stephens was stopped on a fourth-and-one sneak at the Carolina 35-yard line, essentially ending the game.
Succop added another 31-yard field goal in the final quarter - this one coming after Rogan lost his fumble at the Vol 14-yard line - to conclude the scoring.
Tennessee hosts Wyoming Saturday at 1 in the annual Homecoming game.