Tennessee bounced back from a tough loss at home once again on Saturday, throttling South Carolina at Neyland Stadium, 41–21, behind an all-around team effort that saw the Vols execute on offense, defense and special teams alike.
Here are five quick takeaways from the Vols’ second conference win of the season:
Vols’ special teams light a spark
Marquez Callaway had returned two punts for touchdowns before in his career, but none of them were as big as his 65-yard return on Saturday. Daniel Bituli had never logged a special teams touchdown in his career. That changed as well.
One of the better special teams units in the SEC, the Vols were even better than their norm against the Gamecocks.
As UT struggled to gain its footing early, it was Callaway who provided the necessary spark that gave Tennessee the confidence it needed. When a big play was necessary late, Bituli busted through the line and notched his second career touchdown.
While not likely a performance that will be replicated, when the Vols needed a boost, it was their special teams that gave them a jolt of energy.
Jennings continues to thrive as Tennessee’s primary target
Covering Jauan Jennings is no easy task and South Carolina defenders learned that lesson the hard way. In fact, they may have been victims of his best performance to date.
Spearheading a Tennessee offense that even featured him at quarterback at some points, Jennings tallied seven receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns as the Vols gashed the Gamecocks’ defense through the air.
It didn’t matter whether it was J.T. Shrout or Jarrett Guarantano under center, the Murfreesboro, Tennessee native continued to make plays.
Just when it would seem as if the Vols were in a desperate situation on third down or needing a spark of momentum to get things rolling, all they had to do was look in No. 15’s direction. Single coverage, double coverage, it did not matter.
If Tennessee hopes to keep this momentum going moving forward, it may require a few more of Herculean-type efforts from its top receiver. Luckily for UT, he’s beyond capable.
Defense continues to step up
It may have surrendered yards and chunk plays early, but Tennessee’s defense put on a show with its effort on Saturday, particularly in the second half.
At the forefront of that was senior linebackers Bituli and Darrell Taylor.
Carrying over its effort from the past two games, the Vols recorded three sacks, five tackles that resulted in losses and seven pass break-ups.
Bituli led the way with 15 tackles and while Taylor may not have been as prolific in that department, his two sacks and two pass breakups led the team in both of those categories and were key in stalling South Carolina’s drives in the second half.
Neyland Stadium crowd gives UT much-needed life
Known for their passion and their ability to make life difficult on opposing quarterbacks, Tennessee fans were up to their usual tricks once again.
Only this time, the cheers came for the offense and special teams as well.
Boasting one of the country’s largest seating capacities, Neyland Stadium has always been known for its mystique and tradition. There may not have been 90,000 fans in the announced attendance report, but the decibel level would suggest otherwise.
With just two more home games remaining, Tennessee will certainly be looking to the fans for more of the same going forward
Muschamp's seven-game win streak vs. Tennessee is snapped
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp has built up quite the resume when it pertains to facing off against the Vols over the years. Heading into Saturday’s matchup with a 7-0 all-time record, the Gamecocks were 4.5-point favorites despite missing their starting running back.
Unfortunately for Muschamp, all streaks come to an end and his finally hit that point.
After escaping with a 27-24 come-from-behind win over Tennessee in Columbia a year ago, one couldn’t help but wonder when South Carolina’s string of good fortune would come to a halt. Despite being an underdog yet again, UT was determined to turn the tide.
Looking to become bowl eligible after a disastrous start to the regular season, the Vols will host UAB next week before hitting the road to take on Kentucky.