Oct. 29, 2011
(7-1, 5-1 SEC)
(3-5, 0-5 SEC)
BY DREW EDWARDS
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee didn't have any trouble finding big plays on defense Saturday night against South Carolina. Turning those big plays into points, though, was another story.
The Vols couldn't take advantage of two prime opportunities deep in Carolina territory in the second half and fell to the 14th-ranked Gamecocks 14-3 in Neyland Stadium.
"We're just a mess on offense. Can't run it. Struggle to throw it," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "Had it twice in the red area and turned it over. I don't know what else we can do defensively."
Tennessee's offense, without its two most productive players in quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter, struggled again. The Vols finished with just 186 yards of total offense and managed just three points despite getting inside the South Carolina 30-yard line four times.
True freshman quarterback Justin Worley had a difficult time in his debut as a starter, completing 10 of his 26 passes for 105 yards and two interceptions.
"He did some good things, and he struggled at some things, which I expected it to happen. It's his first time," Dooley said. "He just hasn't had the work. He's been a three. That's what we forget. For eight months, he's been a three. And for two weeks he's been a two. It's tough. I don't know what to say. He'll be fine. He'll learn from it and get better."
Worley's first interception came on the Gamecocks' 2-yard line, when free safety D.J. Swearinger stepped in front of tight end Mychal Rivera and grabbed the ball near the goal line.
Two plays earlier, Prentiss Waggner returned an interception of his own 54 yards to the South Carolina 2-yard line. He nearly scored, but lineman Cory Gibson and quarterback Connor Shaw tripped him up just shy of the end zone.
"I was a little down on myself," Waggner said. "Once we made that turnover (on offense), I got down on myself and told myself the next time I've got to get in the end zone."
The real dagger came on South Carolina's next possession.
The Gamecocks (7-1, 5-1 SEC) embarked on a monster drive that lasted nearly 12 minutes. They ran 20 plays and converted six times on third down, the last of which was Shaw's 5-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw.
On that drive, Carolina never faced a third down with more than 5 yards needed for a conversion. Four were third and 2 yards or shorter, and that caused major problems for the Vols.
"We were getting beat on first and second down," UT linebacker Austin Johnson said. "They were creating third-and-1. It put us in a bad spot. We've got to do a better job on first and second down."
True freshman linebacker A.J. Johnson, who had a team-high 12 tackles, provided another spark in the fourth quarter when he recovered Brandon Wilds' fumble at the South Carolina 28-yard line.
On the next play, though, South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore intercepted Worley's pass in the end zone.
Senior Matt Simms — benched this week in favor of Worley — took over and moved the Vols to the Carolina 27 before the drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-1.
In the second half, South Carolina's rushing offense — playing its first full game without leading rusher Marcus Lattimore — picked up steam.
Brandon Wilds finished with 137 yards on 28 carries. Shaw, who threw for 87 yards and a touchdown, was almost as dangerous on his feet. He ran for 64 yards.
The Vols, meanwhile, struggled on the ground again, finishing with just 35 yards rushing. Tailback Tauren Poole had 38 yards on 18 carries. To make matters worse, UT converted just twice in 14 tries on third down.
"We're a different football team right now on offense," Dooley said. "Just not very good at anything right now."
Tennessee scored on its second possession of the game after taking over at the Carolina 18-yard line following a muffed punt by Ace Sanders.
The Vols reached the Gamecocks' 4-yard line, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Michael Palardy and an early 3-0 lead.
Tennessee (3-5, 0-5 SEC) squandered a chance to add to its lead at the end of the first quarter.
Going for the first down on fourth-and-1 from the Gamecocks' 20, UT's offensive line jumped before the snap for a 5-yard penalty. Palardy came out for what would have been a 42-yard attempt, but another false start backed him up 5 more yards.
His attempt from 47 yards was blocked by Carolina's Melvin Ingram, and the Vols were stopped on fourth and short at the Gamecocks' 44-yard line in their only trip inside Carolina territory in the second quarter.
South Carolina, which had just 27 yards of total offense in the first quarter, took advantage of great field position on its second drive of the second quarter. Taking over at the UT 44 following a 27-yard punt by Palardy, the Gamecocks took a 7-3 lead five plays later on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Shaw to Rory Anderson.
Worley completed 9 of his 20 passes in the first half for 99 yards. The two longest went to fellow true freshman DeAnthony Arnett, who caught passes of 26 and 25 yards in the first half.
Worley nearly connected deep with Da'Rick Rogers, but the sophomore couldn't quite catch a well-thrown pass inside the Gamecocks 10-yard line.
It was that kind of day for Tennessee, which will look to end its four-game losing streak against Middle Tennessee State, which comes to Knoxville for homecoming next week (TV: FSN, 7 p.m. ET).
To do that, the Vols need to find some answers, especially on offense.
"At the end of the day, we held them to 14 points and created two turnovers in the red zone. I would have taken that at the beginning of the day. We fought hard. They should be commended for that," Dooley said. "But we're just not good enough right now. We're really not good enough to beat anybody, unless we get some things corrected."