Opportunities Lost – Vols Fall Flat
Down 7-3 to begin that Dreaded Third Quarter, Tennessee nearly exorcised all those early second half demons. But early in the third quarter, when Prentiss Waggner’s run — after his pass interception near the Vol 45 yard — ended just two yards shy of the goal line, it eerily didn’t seem like the Big Orange would capitalize. A three-yard rushing loss was followed by freshman Vol QB Justin Worley throwing his first collegiate interception.
It was one of multiple opportunities lost.
Twenty long, agonizing Gamecock plays later, South Carolina QB Connor Shaw raced into an unobstructed end zone to drive a stake into the Vols’ hearts as if we were vampires.
Tennessee’s shambolic third quarter history was back in full form. Tennessee had the ball for 4 plays in the quarter; South Carolina for 25. The Vols had the ball for 2 minutes; the Gamecocks for 13.
Football is a hard, unforgiving game. We are (barely) living proof. When the chips are just a shade down during a game, the smell of death hangs over this young team like a thick, dense Tule Fog.
Winning three of the last four to become bowl eligible seems like a pipe dream right now. At this point last year, winning all four November games to qualify for December football seemed equally impossible. But we had Tyler Bray in our belt, ready to be loaded. This time, we’re completely out of bullets.
The Worley Experiment started out a bit shakey, as the freshman threw several errant passes in the first quarter. What really killed the Vols in the opening 15 minutes was the inability to capitalize on some good field possession.
After Justin Worley’s first collegiate pass flew somewhere far away from his intended receiver, Gamecock punt returner Ace Sanders fumbled a Michael Palardy punt. John Probst recovered, giving the Vols a reprieve at the Gamecock 18. Then, after air mailing his pass to Da’Rick Rogers near the back of the end zone, Tennessee had to settle on a Palardy 22 yard field goal.
USC and the Vols traded possessions and punts. When Malik Jackson sacked Connor Shaw, the Gamecocks answered with a poor punt, giving the Vols their second possession starting position in USC territory at the Gamecock 41. After a promising gamble of sorts on a 4th and 1, and a nice 3rd down pass from Worley to TE Michael Rivera to get the Vols only a yard short of a first down, Dooley was going to roll the dice again, but Vol OL Ja’Wuan James committed a false start to take away the 4th down conversion. Then another false start by Michael Rivera made Palardy’s 42 yard FGA a 47 FGA, which he hooded a bit to the right because of a partial block by Gamecock Stephon Gilmore.
After a lopsided opening quarter in which the Vols had the bulk of the game clock and field position, all Tennessee could muster was a 3-0 lead.
The Vols’ offensive ineptitudes caught up with them in the early part of the second quarter. After a good defensive stop near midfield, the Gamecock punter put the Vols back at their own 11. Worley’s pass on 3rd and 5 was knocked down at the line of scrimmage, putting the young colt at 5-for-13 for 34 yards passing. Palardy’s short punt gave the Gamecocks their first chance to begin a drive in Tennessee territory.
They made the most of it. After what looked to be another good defensive stop by the Vols, South Carolina was forced to decide on a 4th and 1 situation at the Tennessee 23. The Ol’ Ball Coach did what you would expect. He dialed up something out of the crypt. QB Connor Shaw rolled right on a play action, sucked in the Tennessee safeties, and when the Vol LBs had bit on a run, Shaw lofted a floater over everybody to Rory Anderson running all alone at the goal line to put the Carolinians up 7-3.
Now it was advantage, Gamecocks. But Tennessee, on a 2nd and 21, snuck out of a three-and-out ending when Worley hit DeAnthony Arnett streaking near midfield. It was Worley’s best throw of the evening. Then, on the ensuing 3rd and 1, Worley lofted his best pass of the game, a perfect tight-spiral-bomb to Da’Rick Rogers running full-tilt at the Gamecock 5 on his way for a score. But Rogers let the perfect throw burn through his hands. And, when Worley was unable to convert the 4th and 1 with a sneak, the Vols’ drive flamed out.
What should have been a 3-point Vol lead remained at a 4-point deficit. South Carolina threatened twice more in the remaining minutes of the half, but failed to score.
With a generally dismal offensive performance, the Vols were in no position to give up opportunities.
Worley was 9-20 for 99 yards in the first half, being much more effective in the second 15-minutes, improving with more play. The Vols out-possessed the Gamecocks 18 minutes to 12, but gained only 29 rushing yards on 17 carries.
The Bogey Man – the Dreaded Second half – Awaited Derek Dooley and his Volunteers.
MORE OPPORTUNITIES WASTED
Knowing that the Vols needed to establish Major Mojo in the early part of the second half, Dooley once again rolled his dice. Palardy’s onsides kick attempt was a horrible one, going out-of-bounds, giving South Carolina excellent field position.
Another opportunity lost? You would think, but no. Not yet. On third down, Shaw’s pass was somehow bounced upward into the air. Vol DB Prentiss Waggner grabbed it and started on a long, winding gallop. Desperately looking for blockers at multiple times along the way, Waggner’s return unfortunately ended short of the goal line, at the Gamecock two yard line.
Bad omen. We had to try to score from scrimmage.
Tauren Poole, on first and goal, gained a negative three yards on a (you guessed it) run off tackle, followed by Justin Worley being picked off by D.J. Swearinger who read a quickly developing situation perfectly and cut in front of intended receiver Da’Rick Rogers. It sucked the air out of what would have been a turnaround of the Vols’ third quarter fortunes of late.
Then the Gamecocks tried to sucked the life out of the Vols with a long, tedious drive beginning at their own two yard line. Twenty long plays later, the Gamecocks had a 3rd and goal at the Tennessee 5. It really felt like Autumn – it was nut-cutting time.
Conner Shaw took the snap in the shotgun, and with no Vol defender in the middle of the defensive backfield, Shaw read the situation and ran around the right end of his line into a land of no orange jerseys to drive a stake through the heart of Tennessee. It was an ugly 14-3 Gamecock lead.
The Vols’ shambolic third quarter history was back in full form. Tennessee had run 2 plays in the quarter; South Carolina had the ball for 25 plays. The Vols had the ball for 2 minutes; the Gamecocks had it for 13 minutes.
Plenty of time is 15 minutes to come back from an 11-point deficit. Unless you are Tennessee. The smell of death hung like a thick Tule Fog. The majority of the less-than-hundred-thousand in the house stormed the exit gates after Worley’s pass following a turnover from a fumble recovery was promptly intercepted at the goal line.
It’s hard to recall what happened during the final quarter.
It’s hard to recall what it was like to have a really good football team.