A Sacrifice for the Future?

South Carolina 38  Tennessee 24

30 Oct 2010 | Williams-Brice Stadium | 79,336

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Back-breaking turnovers by the mistake-prone Vols in the early minutes of the second half allowed South Carolina to put up enough points to keep a resilient Tennessee team from pulling off a huge upset that could have resulted in Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks giving the SEC East crown away.

In between those giveaways, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley pulled what this observer saw as a bizarrely timed QB substitution. Just before entering the dressing room at the half of a 10-10 contest, Dooley summarized to the TV sideline reporter what it would take to give the Vols their first conference win: “mental, emotional, intellectual stamina.” Dooley was not willing to lay anything on a lack of talent, size, and other physical attributes. He put it directly inside the heads of his players.

Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms looks on from the bench in the fourth quarter. He must be wondering if his career in the big time is over. Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess.

It could be argued that it was Dooley who didn’t exhibit the requisite mental, emotional, intellectual stamina by making what appeared at the time to be a knee-jerk substitution. During the second half’s opening possession, South Carolina recovered a fumble by Vol starting QB Matt Simms, who was blindsided by the rushing Gamecock defensive line. South Carolina converted the turnover for a 17-10 lead with a TD. That was when Dooley decided to bring in freshman Tyler Bray, who eventually played well enough to finish out the game at QB, but on the second play of the possession, threw a horrible interception that was easily run into the Tennessee endzone to give South Carolina a commanding 24-10 lead early in the third quarter.

It was the defining moment of the game.

Tennessee eventually tied the game at 24-24, partly due to Bray’s passing and some sterling receptions, partly due to the Vol defense, and largely due to an ineffective Stephen Garcia. But, the big-play options for the Gamecocks eventually put the game away, especially freshman sensation Marcus Lattimore who at the end of the contest had complied 184 yards on the ground, and a killer TD pass to Alshon Jeffery.

Why Dooley put Bray in the game at that particular moment is perplexing. Did Simms’ fumble after being blindsided show Dooley that the starting QB was not worthy of leading this squad on the field with only a 7-point deficit? Was that fumble more Simms’ error than the offensive line’s?

It is clear that Bray must be the staff’s choice; Dooley appears to be completely exasperated with Simms’ play while under pressure in the pocket, and/or perhaps with his overall mental makeup/personality. It’s true that Bray showed more than flashes of brilliance during his second-half performance and really sparked the offense during much of the half. However, it was Bray’s ill-advised pass right out of the gate that put the Vols behind by two TDs that proved to be too much of a deficit – a pass immediately after Dooley pulled the trigger.

Time will tell if this was a move more for the future than one for a particular sunny afternoon. However, one thing appears crystal clear: Tyler Bray will be the QB to try and pull this season from the ashes.

And, Matt Simms must be wondering where it all has gone wrong.

*****

A shout-out to Denarius Moore, who’s tally of 228 were the most pass reception yards by a Vol in a decade.

First Half

Watching South Carolina cut through the Vols like a hot knife on butter during the game’s opening drive, I braced myself for my weekly punishment. But, once the Gamecocks got into the red zone, they self-destructed, punctuated by a quick snap that hit QB Stephen Garcia in the head. The drive ended with a Nick Reveiz pass interception in the endzone.

The Vols then struggled to get to a 3-0 lead. On a 3rd and long, the Vols committed the first of three stupid first-half penalties (all by seniors, no less) with an ineligible downfield infraction. But when Chad Cunningham got a nice punt in the air, the Gamecocks committed a penalty of their own, giving the Vols a 4th and 1, which Dooley and Company risked with a Simms QB sneak that made it only by the tip of the football. Tennessee eventually got it in the red zone on a nice touch pass from Simms to Denarius Moore (good to see him back in action after getting his bell rung last week). But the drive immediately stalled on two more stupid self-destructive false start penalties, and Tennessee had to settle for a Michael Palardy 39-yard FG.

After Dooley's on-field tirade aimed at the face of QB Matt Sims, the Vol coach spoke about "mental, emotional, intellectual stamina." Hmmm. Photo by Michael Patrick.

South Carolina quickly drove the ball to a field goal to knot the game at 3 to bring the Vols to a near breaking point. Simms bought time on 3rd down by rolling right and then throwing a bullet downfield to Denarius Moore who scampered into the red zone. But on the first play, Simms was sacked for a 7-yard loss, threw the ball away on 2nd down, and – after Dooley got in the face of Simms on the field to verbally undress his junior QB during a time out – was sacked from behind, fumbled, and gave possession back to South Carolina.

At this point, the Vols had 7 plays in the red zone with only one resulting in positive yardage. South Carolina then made the Vols pay for their gross ineptitude by featuring their freshman running sensation Marcus Lattimore – he scored his 13th TD of the season to put the Gamecocks ahead 10-3, and you could smell death out of the back of your HDTV.

The next possession by Tennessee showed something was brewing with this struggling football program. There was no more hesitancy, no more self-doubt. On the back of some good plays by Denarius Moore and Da’Rick Rogers, the Vols found themselves once again in the red zone. This time was different. After a puny one-yard rushing gain, Simms threw a bullet to TE Luke Stocker who had crossed over the middle along the back of the Gamecock endzone, and failure seemed destined to finally make way for a bit of orange sunshine. 10-10 is how the first half ended.

Second Half

South Carolina recovered a Simms fumble who was blindsided on the opening possession of the 2nd half, and the Gamecocks found their promising season right in front of them for the taking. Garcia ran for a first down on 3rd and long, then Malik Jackson committed yet another mental mistake – no mental, emotional, intellectual stamina – by committing a late hit on the Gamecock QB when out of bounds. South Carolina gladly accepted the extra yards and converted it for a 17-10 lead with a TD.

The first five minutes of any second half are huge in establishing tone and momentum. The Vols had failed miserably.

Then Dooley made his substitution at QB, bringing in freshman Tyler Bray for Simms. On the second play of the possession, Bray threw an interception to the Gamecock DE who broke in front of the intended receiver on a short slant route and ran all alone into the endzone to perhaps advance South Carolina closer to their first SEC East crown with a commanding 24-10 lead early in the third quarter.

Tennessee punter Chad Cunningham's 25 yard rush on a fake punt temporarily gave the Vols loads of hope. Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess.

After a couple of failed Vol drives, punter Chad Cunningham on 4th and 7 ran down the right side on a fake for a first down, was hit out of bounds to tack on more yards, and then Tyler Bray threw a perfect pass to Denarius Moore on a post pattern in the end zone to get the Vols within a touchdown, 24-17.

Two huge 4th down conversions for the Vols. But after the Vols stopped the Gamecocks on their ensuing possession, the Vols’ punt returner Eric Gordon, standing inside his own 20 yard line, let the ball go through his arms, and South Carolina must have been thanking the heavens that this week brought hapless Tennessee to their schedule. But it was Gamecock QB Garcia who was proving to be just as hapless. South Carolina couldn’t capitalize on the orange-wrapped gift – not only could USC not score a TD, but they missed a chip-shot FG attempt, and the Vols somehow still found themselves in the game as the third quarter ended.

Tyler Bray, who at this point was obviously THE choice, threw a 64-yard completion to Denarius Moore down the right sideline to inside the Gamecock 5-yard line. But, Da’Rick Rogers was called for a penalty that put the ball at the USC 17 instead of the two. No matter. Bray threw a Sammy Baugh sidearmer over the middle into the endzone where Gerald Jones made a diving catch, and the Vols found themselves tied 24-24 in the fourth quarter. Williams-Brice Stadium was a mausoleum of stunned silence, except for a small contingent of orange-clad fanatics.

But the big-play options for the Gamecocks took this game over. Junior WR Alshon Jeffrey, who hadn’t done anything all day, caught a Stephen Garcia pass over the middle and scampered down the left sideline for a long TD and put South Carolina back on top, 31-24.

Bolstered by a big sack of Bray after the Vols had ventured into Gamecock territory on a Da’Rick Rogers end-around run, the Gamecock defense held. Marcus Lattimore then took over. He ran for a 44-yard gain with 15 yards tacked on due to a Vol personal foul for an illegal hit, got up and ran for a bunch more to the Vol 1 yard line, and Garcia sneaked it across the Tennessee goal line to put the game away at 38-24.

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4 responses to “A Sacrifice for the Future?”

  1. tk says :

    so close yet so far away……..but the fake punt, one of my favorite plays in football, made it all worth the watch for me. loved the call, loved we have the coach to make the call.

  2. norcalvol says :

    Agreed, tk, about the fake punt. What are the odds that Fulmer would have risked that? What are the odds that Fulmer would have gone for it on 4th and 1 in the first quarter?
    Of course it could be argued that we absolutely have to gamble like that in order to beat anybody these days, but the fact that Dooley is willing to make such calculated risks is a plus in my book, too.

  3. Bill says :

    Alshon isn’t a Junior, he’s a True Soph

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