Tennessee Stat Book
AP Top 25 College Football
COLUMBIA, S.C. - If you had only watched South Carolina's last two scoring drives, you would have thought this Tennessee game had gone the way of so many others.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery turned an intermediate-range pass into a 70-yard touchdown play. Next came an eight-play, 92-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 39-yard run by star freshman Marcus Lattimore.
Those fourth-quarter drives underscored the perceived gap in talent between the best and worst teams in the SEC East. Or, as South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier surmised, "Our big-play guys came through in the fourth quarter."
But the Gamecocks' 38-24 victory wasn't as simple as the better team prevailing with its best players. Nor could you attribute the outcome solely to another second-half UT collapse, even though it did give up 28 points.
The Vols made enough mistakes to lose two games Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Quarterback Matt Simms killed one potential UT scoring drive with his first fumble and set up a South Carolina touchdown with his second fumble. Quarterback Tyler Bray handed the Gamecocks another touchdown with a perfectly thrown pass to 6-foot-7 defensive end Devin Taylor, who jogged 24 yards into the end zone.
The mistakes weren't limited to quarterbacks. Eric Gordon muffed a punt late in the third quarter to put South Carolina in position for another score, but UT escaped unscathed with one of its best second-half defensive stands of the season.
Given all those mishaps, UT trailed by only seven points with four minutes to play against the 17th ranked team in the country. How do you explain that?
"We weren't real sharp," Spurrier said. "We don't play every game like we do against Alabama."
Instead, the Gamecocks performed as clumsily as they did in an upset loss to Kentucky, making you wonder if they're consistent enough to hold their lead in the SEC East.
Consider it an opportunity lost for the Vols, who passed for 312 yards, had one more first down than the Gamecocks, and didn't cave in after basically giving South Carolina two quick touchdowns to start the second half.
Their fourth consecutive loss raised more questions than it answered. Pick one: Can the Vols win an SEC game? Will they be remembered as the worst team in school history? Bray or Simms?
Let's hold off on the first two questions - for obvious reasons. Besides, "Who should be UT's starting quarterback?" provides a nice change of pace to the season-long theme of incompetence.
The answer depends, in part, on whom you ask.
Simms, who has started every game, made a case for himself, pointing out that his fumbles were the result of hard sacks rather than his own ineptitude. He also noted that he hadn't thrown touchdown passes to the wrong team. Hmmm. Wonder what he meant by that?
UT coach Derek Dooley expressed concern over Simms holding the ball too long. Conversely, Bray, who played all but the first series of the second half, was quick to fling it against the Gamecocks - though not always to the appropriate team. But on a team that is less adept at protecting its passer than the ball, there's something to be said for a rapid-fire delivery.
If you discount the turnovers, Simms and Bray both had good numbers. Simms completed 10 of 13 passes for 153 yards, including a touchdown and a 64-yard throw to Denarius Moore under duress. Bray was 9-for-15 for 153 yards and a touchdown. Each was sacked three times.
I can understand why Simms would be upset at being summoned to the bench. The team isn't 2-6 because of its quarterback. In fact, he has played better than I expected in his first season as a starter.
But he hasn't played well enough to condemn Bray to the bench. So why not give Bray a chance to start and finish a game on his own? And what better time than next Saturday against Memphis?
As bad as the Vols have been, they could put wide receiver Gerald Jones at quarterback in the "G-Gun" and beat Memphis.
It's not as though you have to worry about a quarterback controversy dividing the team. The team just went 0-for-October.
Its only preference is winning.