Tennessee’s football team has done its best to forget one of its worst days in recent memory. However, its upcoming opponent surely brings back the haunting memory of the Columbia Collapse of 2022.
Surely you remember last year’s game against South Carolina. From the Vols’ perspective, it was an all-out mess. Tennessee not only lost the game; its football program was embarrassed. The Vols not only got outplayed physically; they lost lost their star quarterback for the season.
The trip to Columbia was supposed to just be a stopover for a team with championship aspirations. After South Carolina, only an easy game against Vanderbilt remained. Instead, the South Carolina game was perhaps the costliest loss for a Tennessee football team since the 2001 Vols lost to LSU in the SEC Championship Game, which cost them a trip to play in the national championship game. If the Vols hadn’t stubbed their toe against the Gamecocks, the Vols would have likely been in the College Football Playoff last season. Alas, that didn’t happen.
Here are some noteworthy reminders of the 63-38 loss to the Gamecocks:
– Previously struggling, South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns. Before the UT game, he had just nine interceptions and eight touchdowns all season.
– The Gamecocks scored 35 points in the first half and once led by 18 points in the second quarter. South Carolina only averaged 32 points per game all year in 2022.
– Tennessee allowed 606 yards to the Gamecocks, who ranked as the 11th best offense in the SEC.
– The Vols gave up the most points in an SEC game in school history, topping a Steve Spurrier-led Florida team that scored 62.
There’s no denying it. Tennessee was thoroughly beaten and was never in the game. There were of course reasons. Linebacker Jeremy Banks was involved in a locker room confrontation with at least one of his teammates. Then during the game, Heisman Trophy quarterback candidate Hendon Hooker suffered a season-ending knee injury that his teammates knew was very bad when it happened. That took away any opportunity the Vols had to lead a comeback.
Understandably, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel didn’t feel too much like talking about his last contest with the Gamecocks when asked about as such on Monday during his weekly press conference.
“It’s a new week every week,” Heupel said. “It’s a new year too. Last year, they were more physical than us. They competed harder than we did on that night. We didn’t handle the environment the right way. Those were lessons that had to continue to move forward with us as a program.
“Last year has nothing to do with this week. Last week has nothing to do with this week. The previous play has nothing to do with the next one. We have to focus on our preparation and be ready to have a great competitive spirit for four quarters.”
There will be one constant, however, from last season. South Carolina will again be led by mobile quarterback Spencer Rattler, who is second in the conference, averaging 310 yards passing per game.
“He’s a really good player,” Heupel said. “He’s played at a high level. He’s played a lot of football. He’s playing extremely well right now. He was dynamic in that football game, but he has that in his arsenal. For us, the line of scrimmage is important. We have to do a really good job, and we have to get them into third-and-long.
“Last year, we didn’t get off the field on third-and-longs. Some of that was coverage, some of that was him extending and making some really special plays. We have to do a great job of bottling him up and applying pressure at the same time.”
At the same time, it’s hard not to think about the last time.