Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess, ©KNS/2011 // Buy this photo
Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2011 // Buy this photo
Tennessee Stat Book
Chalk up another brutal October third quarter for Tennessee. And this time add a cruel twist.
No. 14 South Carolina ground punchless Tennessee into submission, 14-3, Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
The soundtrack on Tennessee’s 2011 season is still stuck like a broken record.
The Gamecocks gobbled up nearly the entire third quarter with a 20-play, 98-yard scoring drive that lasted 11 minutes and 35 seconds and included six third-down conversions.
Connor Shaw got the final 5 yards on a quarterback draw for a 14-3 lead that appeared — and was — insurmountable given Tennessee’s inept offense.
“We’re not very good at anything,’’ said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. “We’re not very good to beat anybody unless we get some things corrected.’’
Dooley digested an evening that produced only 186 yards of offense, a 2-of-14 third-down conversion rate and — for the second consecutive game — zero touchdowns.
Freshman quarterback Justin Worley struggled in his first start, hitting 10 of 26 passes for 105 yards. He was intercepted twice to nix scoring opportunities.
“Justin had a tough day out there,’’ Dooley said.
“We didn’t help him. We didn’t run the ball.’’
They tried: 21 attempts for 35 yards.
South Carolina could run it: 53 times for 231 yards.
The Gamecocks’ clinching drive started at their own 2. And here’s the cruel part — the Vols got there on Prentiss Waggner’s interception and 54-yard return but couldn’t take advantage.
Waggner picked off Shaw on the first possession of the second half and thrilled a crowd announced at 96,655 with a return that seemed destined to reach the end zone.
Maybe UT was going to exorcise its third-quarter ghosts in one electrifying play.
However, Waggner was tackled 2 yards short of the goal line and that 2 yards was more than Tennessee’s offense could handle.
After Tauren Poole was stuffed for a loss, South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger made a diving interception at the 2 of a pass from Worley.
It wasn’t the first time in the game the Vols had first-and-goal and couldn’t negotiate a touchdown.
South Carolina fumbled away a punt return in the first quarter at the 18, after which Tennessee arrived at the Gamecocks’ 6, first-and-goal.
All that came from it was Michael Palardy’s 22-yard field goal.
“If you’d said before the game,’’ said Dooley, “that we hold ’em to 14 and the defense gives the offense the ball twice in the red zone I’d have taken that in a heartbeat.’’
Instead, more heartbreak.
The outcome left Tennessee (3-5, 0-5 SEC) with a four-game SEC losing streak in October for the second consecutive year.
During that stretch the Vols have been outscored 49-0 in the third quarter.
South Carolina (7-1, 5-1) remains in the driver’s seat in defense of its SEC East title.
The Gamecocks are 4-3 against Tennessee since Steve Spurrier took over in 2005.
“Well,’’ said Spurrier, “we won the ballgame somehow.’’
Carolina has lost All-SEC tailback Marcus Lattimore for the season but fill-in Brandon Wilds did a fair impression in his first start, rushing for 137 yards on 28 carries.
Wilds’ only blemish was a fumble that gave the Vols one last chance at redemption in the fourth quarter. It too fell empty.
A.J. Johnson recovered a Wilds fumble at the South Carolina 28 with 12:27 to play and UT down 11 points.
On the Vols’ first snap, Worley threw toward the goal line where Stephon Gilmore made the interception for a touchback.
“We had three huge defensive stands that they could have gotten 21 off of, or 17,’’ said Spurrier.
“They had three chances to score. We had two and we managed to get touchdowns.’’
The second interception was Worley’s exit. Matt Simms took over for UT’s last possession.
It produced three first downs but ended on a fourth-down incompletion with 6:33 to play, confirming another no-touchdown result.
UT, in fact, has produced only two touchdowns in the past four games, clearly missing injured quarterback Tyler Bray.
“We’re a very different team on offense now,’’ Dooley said. “Very different.’’
The first half ended 7-3. In short, South Carolina took full advantage of its best opportunity and Tennessee did not.
Tennessee had excellent field position throughout the first quarter but did precious little with it.
The first break fell UT’s way when South Carolina fumbled a punt return and John Probst recovered at the Gamecocks’ 18.
The Vols did advance for a first-and-goal at the 6, but got only the field goal.
South Carolina got a short field for its touchdown, thanks in part to a 27-yard Palardy punt.
It all came down to fourth-and-1 at the 23. Spurrier won.
The Vols sold out on stopping the run but Shaw rolled out and fired to a wide-open Rory Anderson for the touchdown.
Tennessee shoulda, coulda, woulda answered. Worley laid out a pass for what would have been a 44-yard touchdown to Da’Rick Rogers, but Rogers couldn’t make the catch.
“It’s kind of hard not to point fingers,’’ said defensive tackle Malik Jackson. “But we’re a team.
“We win as a team and we lose as a team.’’