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Tennessee avenges loss to Gamecocks with 41-20 Dark Mode Win
by Tom Mabry, Knox Daily Sun UT Football Writer
October 1, 2023, 2:13 p.m.

ut vols vs sc gamecocks

A great lore of college football is the pre-game tailgate. Knoxville Central High and University of Tennessee graduate Mike Faulkner and friends know how to put one on. From time to time, they invite members of the media to visit, in part to give their parties an air of legitimacy.

Between rounds of a liquid concoction owing its history to Rocky Top’s finest mountain distillers, Faulkner was asked to give a prediction of the soon to be played Tennessee vs. South Carolina game. After stalling a bit to allow the libation to filter through his senses, he asked the UT Sports football writer what he thought. When the score 41-21 Vols was suggested, Faulkner said “I’ll go with that - you claim to be some kind of expert.”

Local Knoxville sports authority Chuck Cavalaris soon weighed in on social media by asking about the tailgate vibe and for a prediction after photos of the gathering were published as the fans made their way to Neyland Stadium for the Dark Mode contest. Chucky C Note didn’t object when the prediction was communicated to him (and the world) and well he should not have done so. The numerical prognostication was off by only one South Carolina point.

When asked after the game about the near miss, Faulkner retorted that “perfection is overrated”. While the Vols were certainly not perfect on the last day of September 2023, they made enough terrific plays to avenge last years’ Gamecock fiasco by the score of 41-21.

neyland stadium

The 63-38 loss in 2022 thwarted Tennessee’s bid for a national championship. Tennessee had this one circled on the calendar and gave great effort. The Gamecocks’ quarterback Spencer Rattler threw six touchdown passes in 2022. In 2023, he threw none. Save a 75 yard second half touchdown scamper by SC running back Mario Anderson, the stout Vols’ defense met the challenge, and with the roaring crowd kept Rattler off of his rhythm for most of the night. The three touchdown margin was indicative of the relevant strengths of the programs to date this year.

Tennessee, as is its want, wanted to start fast. Barely seven minutes into the game, following a thwarted South Carolina possession, Tennessee capped a nine play, 94 yard drive with a 42 yard Jaylen Wright run for the score. Charles Campbell’s PAT made the score 7-0.

Not to be deterred, the Gamecocks immediately added a 38 yard field goal by Mitch Jeter and a Rattler run for a brief 10-7 lead. Before the first quarter was over, however, Tennessee responded with a 2 yard touchdown by Jabari Small which followed the best reception of the evening. Fighting through an uncalled pass interference call, Squirrel White caught a 50 yard pass from Joe Milton III that seemingly ricocheted off all parts of White and the defender’s body. The catch would have been the highlight of the night but for Tennessee defensive theatrics toward halftime.

In arguably the play of the game, Tennessee’s James Pearce, Jr. beat his block and caused Rattler to throw high over his receiver’s head, finding instead Vol defensive back Kamal Haddon, who returned the errant toss 28 yards for a touchdown to make the halftime score 24-10.

ut pride of the southland band

After a halftime that honored the 25th anniversary of the 1998 Tennessee National Championship team, Tennessee came out strong again, scoring on a six yard pass from Milton to Jacob Warren for a three touchdown lead. South Carolina refused to fold, epitomized by Anderson’s 75 yard touchdown run. The result remained in doubt until Dylan Sampson scored on a six yard run with 4:21 to play. Rattler had run out of rabbits to pull from his hat and the Vols closed out the victory.

Tennessee now has won its first SEC game of the year. Next is a bye week, followed by Texas A&M’s talented team invading Neyland on October 14. Revenge wins like this one against South Carolina make the bye weeks much more enjoyable. The defense recorded six sacks on the night and the offense was much more cohesive with Cooper Mays back at center after missing the first four games following a surgical procedure. Coach Josh Heupel was relieved that the team was able to avert another South Carolina debacle with solid, inspired play.

Now the pundits will look to the Faulkner tailgate for another accurate prediction of the next game. The unscientific prediction analysis undoubtedly will be utilized to this writer’s favor for the remaining games of a now promising season.

ut vols marching band


* The game prediction would have been perfect if South Carolina had gone for two and made it after their touchdown in the second half.

* The terms SC and USC are acronyms for the South Carolina team, and so too are the abbreviations for Southern California’s teams. Much like the “UT” delineating Tennessee and Texas, Gamecock fans called their team “the real USC.” Unfortunately for South Carolina, the real USC played Colorado on Saturday and won.

* The flags in Neyland Stadium were flown at half mast as a tribute to erstwhile University President Joe Johnson, who passed away on Friday at the age of 90.

* Josh Turbyville continues his kickoff excellence with booming drives preventing opponents returns. The only flaw was an 80 yard kick which went out of bounds and gave SC great field position just before halftime. The Cocks could not take advantage.

* The word “targeting” connotes the use of weaponry to destroy the enemy, among several similar analogies. In the hunting world, squirrels get targeted by hunters. In fact, there are whole organizations dedicated to targeting squirrels. In football parlance, through, receivers are targeted by their quarterbacks, which fortunately doesn’t generally result in death. Tennessee wideout Squirrel White was targeted nine times by Milton, and caught nine passes, exemplifying the notion that targeting can have a positive connotation.

* Fans expressed their displeasure at questionable refereeing during the contest. Of note, Milton attempted to complete a shuttle pass which fell incomplete, but not before the umpire - mimicking the manic control-room worker Johnny in the early 1980s Airplane! movies - declared the play a fumble and South Carolina’s ball. Let’s just say the ref appeared a bit too eager to make that inexplicably incorrect call.

* Last year’s Heisman candidate and crowd favorite Hendon Hooker was in the sidelines for the game. According to Milton, his presence definitely gave a spark to the team.

* After catching a pass to extend a Tennessee drive, Bru McCoy was injured and was carted off the field, much to the dismay of the 101,000 fans. The injury was described by Heupel as a lower leg injury.

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