Nobody affiliated with Tennessee Football needs a reminder of what happened last year when they visited the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Vols were all but a lock for the College Football Playoff with one loss. South Carolina was 6-4 and coming off a 38-6 loss to the Florida Gators.
Then, out of nowhere, Shane Beamer’s team scored a dominating 63-38 victory. Spencer Rattler led his team to a touchdown on all but one meaningful offensive possessions in the matchup. Hendon Hooker tore his ACL in the process, killing his Heisman hopes and ending his college career.
At the same time, Tennessee Football lost any hope of making its first CFP. The Vols had to settle for an 11-2 finish and an Orange Bowl consolation win over the Clemson Tigers. UT offensive lineman Cooper Mays hasn’t forgotten that game.
“It was upsetting. It sucked,” he said. “It even made it worse that Hendo got hurt and the fashion that it happened and everything. It was just all around a bad night. We fought hard, played hard, but it just didn’t come out our way, and they were the better team that night.”
Of course, reports later came out that Jeremy Banks, who was clearly suspended for the game, got into an altercation with Hooker earlier in the week. The issues killed any chances the Vols may have had of coming back. Both are now gone.
When the two kick off on Saturday, Rattler will be back on the field, but the Vols will be behind Joe Milton III, still trying to prove himself at quarterback. They also won’t be overlooking this one at all. Mays said a loss like last year should add fuel to the fire.
“I’m sure everybody looks at different things to fuel them, and I’m sure a lot of people view that as fuel,” he said. “Everybody’s got their own little things and their own little situations going on.”
Does that count as a revenge game? The term seems much more common for fans than players or coaches. After all, once kickoff happens, aren’t the teams just focused on executing each play, regardless of what happened before?
To a degree, that’s the case. However, Mays makes clear that losing to a conference team the way they did last year to South Carolina certainly leaves a bitter taste. How they respond to that feeling will be crucial at Neyland Stadium Saturday.
“You never want to lose, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to focus on the stuff you can get better at,” he said.
Obviously, with a loss already on their resume this year, to Florida, Tennessee Football has plenty to focus on beyond what happened last year. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t use what happened last year as extra motivation.