In a bit of a sloppy performance, Tennessee Football was able to get the revenge it wanted Saturday night on the South Carolina Gamecocks, winning the game 41-20 in their dark-mode uniforms. Heading into their bye, here are five things we learned from the Vols’ first SEC victory of the season.
1. Cooper Mays return fueled a dominant run game.
Yes, the Vols have been dominating on the ground all year, but in the first half against the Florida Gators, the one half against a good team that mattered, they were awful. That wasn’t the case here. UT had 238 yards rushing. Jaylen Wright had 16 carries for 123 yards. Cooper Mays returned at center, which was a huge boost for the interior blocking.
2. Joe Milton III struggles still persist.
To be fair, he played with a brace on his leg, and his go-to wideout, Bru McCoy, suffered a horrific injury in the first half. Combine that with Dont’e Thornton being out, and Joe Milton III had his issues. However his play in this game won’t cut it. His first interception was into double coverage where he didn’t see a safety, and his second was an underthrow that should’ve been a touchdown. That’s a problem.
3. Coverage defense was superb.
In a 180 from last year, Tennessee Football was incredible in coverage. The Vols held Spencer Rattler to 169 yards, and Kamal Hadden had a pick-six. Even on misdirection plays, Elijah Herring and Aaron Beasley were always in the right position, and Wesley Walker was great at open-field tackling. By not having to blitz, the back seven played free, and it showed.
4. Rush defense dominated…except for one drive.
Let’s start with the pass rush. They did exactly what they should have, coming away with six sacks, and they should’ve forced a safety. James Pearce Jr. once again led the way with two sacks. The run defense was mostly great too, notably getting a stop on a 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 in the third. However, they allowed one 75-yard touchdown run.
5. Elite kicking game countered return game miscues
South Carolina caught Tennessee Football with a fake punt, which is inexcusable given what we know Shane Beamer can do. Then Dee Williams fumbled a punt, but he picked it up and ran it into the end zone. The issue was that a block in the back waived it off, so return game was a problem. However, Jackson Ross averaged 49 yards a punt, and Charles Campbell made two kicks, so that made up for it.