South Carolina fought hard to hang in against No. 16 Tennessee on Saturday night, but ultimately fell 31-27 in quite possibly the most Gamecock way when a special teams miscue doomed their hopes of a comeback.
The Gamecocks got off to a rip-roaring start, as Collin Hill and Shi Smith linked up multiple times for big gains with Kevin Harris carries sprinkled in for a 75-yard, 5:01 scoring drive capped by a Harris plunge into the end zone from the 3.
The South Carolina defense enjoyed a strong start as well, snuffing out Tennessee's first drive with an Enagbare sack of Jarrett Guarantano. Things got even better on the ensuing UT punt, as a botched snap on a rekick resulted in a turnover on downs. Unfortunately, the Gamecocks couldn't cash in on the turnover, and were forced to punt themselves after an otherthrown target to Nick Muse and a holding penalty.
Tennessee got right to work, and Brandon Johnson made a one-handed grab to get the Vols well into South Carolina territory and ultimately set up a Guarantano keeper across the goal line to tie the game.
After both teams traded a couple punts each, the Gamecocks started the second quarter with a bobbled pass by Smith that ended up in the arms of a UT defender and then into the end zone, giving the Vols a leg up at 14-7.
More sloppy offensive play continued, with Hill taking multiple third-down sacks, and the Gamecocks offense bogged down. Fortunately, the UT offense hit a wall as well, and the first half ended with the score still 14-7.
Unfortunately, the Vols quickly got back to work at the start of the third quarter, methodically driving down the field on the strength of their rushing attack, led by a 19-yard scamper from Guarantano, Ty Chandler, and Eric Gray, who found paydirt to make it 21-7.
South Carolina struck right back, however, stretching the field with a 42-yard bomb to Xavier Legette and then a 29-yard strike to Smith to pull the Gamecocks within seven, 21-14.
The South Carolina defense stiffened on UT's next possession, holding the Vols to a missed 46-yard attempt. Feeding off that energy, Hill sliced and diced the Tennessee defense, involving Smith, Muse, and Deshaun Fenwick in a surgical drive that ended with a 1-yard Hill sneak to tie the game at 21.
Tennessee threatened on its next drive, but USC's red zone defense once again held and forced another field goal, this one successful, to limit the damage to a 24-21 Tennessee lead.
After the Gamecocks failed to convert a third and short when the refs gave Smith a questionable spot, it got even more frustrating for the USC faithful when coach Will Muschamp elected to punt on 4th and inches.
However, the Gamecocks got the ball back, and with another productive drive on the ground, tied the game with an 35-yard Parker White field goal. Tennessee struck back quickly, though, on a quick strike from Guarantano to Josh Palmer from 32 yards out to make it 31-24.
South Carolina battled back to kick another field goal, then got a stop it desperately needed with 1:25 left in the game and down 31-27. Unfortunately -- in true Gamecock football fashion -- the ensuing punt ricocheted off the back of Cam Smith's leg and Tennessee recovered to end the game.
South Carolina falls to 0-1 and will face No. 5 Florida next week in the Swamp at noon.