This isn't going to be fun, but in order to get a better sense of what's wrong with our defense, let's take a look at the Vols game-tying TD pass at the end of regulation.
The first thing that jumps out at me while watching this play, and what makes it such a heartbreaking play to watch, is that other than T.J. Gurley (20) and Al Harris (31), most of the Gamecocks defend this play well. In a game where Carolina rarely got much pressure on Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs despite the Vols' porous offensive line, the Gamecocks get several players in his face on this play. Brison Williams (12) gets at Dobbs on a blitz and linemen are after him from both the play and back sides. Marcquis Roberts is spying on Dobbs from the middle linebacker spot and has a good bead if Dobbs escapes the pressure by scrambling. Chaz Elder (17) and Rico McWilliams (1) have good coverage on their men. With better coverage from Gurley and Harris, this play ends in either a sack, a throw out the back of the end zone, or an attempt by Dobbs to fit the ball while scrambling into a tight window to one of the covered receivers, which would be a low-percentage play that might even result in a turnover if Dobbs's throw is off the mark.
The problem on the play is that Gurley and Harris get mixed up, with both covering UT WR Von Pearson (9) on the sideline. This leaves UT receiver Jason Croom wide open in the end zone, allowing Dobbs to make an easy throw to tie the game. Based on the fact that McWilliams, Elder, and Gurley are all playing man coverage, I'm assuming that's the play call here. Given that Gurley is pacing the inside man and that it's reasonable to believe that's the guy he's supposed to be covering, the mixup here is probably the fault of Harris.
While the play ultimately thus owes to a freshman mistake by a promising young corner, I also question the play call here, particularly blitzing Williams. The decision seems to make sense when you consider that Williams nearly gets to Dobbs, but then consider the situation. Tennessee basically has to pass here. Obviously, Dobbs gained a lot of yards with his feet, but unless he sees a 100% sure path to the end zone, he's not likely to take off running, as the clock would probably run out before UT gets a play off if he scrambles and is tackled short of the goal line. In this situation, I say you try to get pressure with your defensive front and leave your defensive backs in coverage. Keep Roberts as the spy on Dobbs scrambling. This way, you force Dobbs, who struggled to throw the ball with accuracy at times during the game, to make a pinpoint throw. The play we ran could have worked with flawless execution from from the defensive backs who stayed in coverage, but that's a lot to ask of this group based on their youth and how they've played over the course of the season. In short, taking your best cover corner out of coverage in a situation where you know the opponent is going to pass isn't wise.
So, there you have it, folks. A poor play call and failed execution. If that doesn't sum up the performance of our defense over the course of the season, what does?