Tennessee football defense, Tim Banks eviscerated by South Carolina, Spencer Rattler
COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina's public-address announcer Dave Aiken said it once. Then he said it again. No fans were allowed on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday to celebrate the Gamecocks toppling Tennessee football.
The words were as effective as Tennessee's defense against South Carolina.
Tennessee's players dashed across the field for their tunnel as South Carolina fans descended. The goalposts lowered and the scoreboard told the somber, startling truth: The Vols allowed 63 points, the most they've allowed in an SEC game in program history.
"I don’t know if it something you process right now or not, but it definitely hurts in the heart," UT defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus said.
South Carolina (7-4, 4-4 SEC) eviscerated No. 5 Tennessee (9-2, 5-2) and quarterback Spencer Rattler enjoyed a career performance at the expense of coordinator Tim Banks' group, handing the Vols a 63-38 loss to end their College Football Playoff dreams. The Gamecocks posted 606 yards, their most since 2014 against Tennessee. Rattler was 30-for-37 passing for a career-high six touchdowns and 438 yards.
Rattler said the Gamecocks felt "unstoppable." They were against a hapless Vols defense that allowed touchdowns on nine of 10 drives that didn't end a half.
"We didn’t defend anything the way that you need to," Vols coach Josh Heupel said. "And you can’t play in this league that way.”
Tennessee's defense was gashed immediately Saturday. The Gamecocks orchestrated a nine-play, 75-yard drive that featured a pair of third down conversions and a fourth-and-6 conversion. They scored again. And again. And again.
USC had a two-score lead multiple times in the first half thanks to Rattler and his four first-half passing touchdowns. He had eight passing touchdowns in nine games entering Saturday.
Rattler sat in the pocket and dismantled the Vols the way USC students dismantled the hedges in front of the student section after the upset. The Vols had two quarterback hurries and one sack. Rattler looked every bit the Heisman candidate he was once viewed as while he danced through the defense and tossed perfect pass after perfect pass.
“Spencer is a talented guy, right?" Heupel said. "At times, when he had gotten hot, he plays hot. And he was."
Rattler picked on Tennessee cornerbacks one by one. He smoked Doneiko Slaughter. He beat Brandon Turnage. He got Kamal Hadden. He threw perhaps his best pass to beat Christian Charles for an 18-yard touchdown to Josh Vann late in the second quarter.
"We played man, we played zone," Heupel said. "Tried to find an answer to it. At the end of the day, we didn’t."
The Gamecocks were 8-for-11 on third downs, including a backbreaking third-and-20 at the end of the third quarter that sapped Tennessee's best chance to get a stop at a critical moment. The Gamecocks capped the drive with another touchdown to take a 49-31 lead.
"A lot of times, it seemed like we were playing in slow motion out there," Bumphus said. "We didn’t have any juice."
South Carolina kept coming, doing to Tennessee what Tennessee has done to teams throughout its historic season. It didn't lack energy or juice in erasing UT's biggest hopes for this season.
Three hours after the game ended and the field was long cleared, the scoreboard still showed the final score.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.