What we have here is a good-enough start, progress, a victory on the road despite handicaps and confusion.
The net result was another reminder of how true are the Robert R. Neyland maxims. Long, long ago The General told us that the team that makes the fewest mistakes most often wins. South Carolina made a really bad one at the end.
Tennessee played very well and not so hot, in streaks and spurts. Jeremy Pruitt used one of his favorite descriptive words, “inconsistent.”
The coach said he was tickled to death that the team found a way to win. He knows even ugly counts. Come to think of it, there may not be such a thing as ugly under the conditions. The Vols are 1-0. The betting line was frighteningly accurate. The Vols were favored by 3 ½ points. They won by four.
Here are the facts:
The older, improved and polished Jarrett Guarantano is not going to win the Heisman Trophy. As in the past, he threw behind some receivers. He was wild high. He was sacked twice. He did not lose the football. He made an interesting run. He hit the passes that decided the game. The last one was a thing of beauty, a 32-yarder to Josh Palmer.
Brandon Johnson gave Jarrett one more completion than expected. Brandon made an amazing left-handed catch with a defensive back on his back.
Tennessee defensive backs had other problems. The secondary was full of holes. The Gamecocks exploited them. The absence of Shawn Shamburger was troublesome. Slot receiver Shi Smith had 10 catches for 140 yards.
Practice doesn’t guarantee perfection but a lot of Vols missed a lot of practice time in dodging the dreaded virus. That was part of the discombobulation.
Tennessee’s offensive linemen, bullies in pre-season work, did not dominate. The Vols ran 11 times in the first half and netted 10 yards. They finished with 133 on 33 carries. That was not enough to alarm Missouri, Saturday foe.
Incidentally, if you are keeping score, Tennessee converted one of 11 third downs.
Tennessee’s defense got off to a terrible start, recovered, controlled for a time, grew weary but competed gamely and squeezed fourth-quarter threats down to field goals. South Carolina had the football almost 10 minutes more.
Henry To’o Too was oh, so very happy with his first interception and touchdown return. Deandre Johnson had 2.5 sacks in 13 games last season and 2.5 sacks against the Gamecocks. The Vols got some pressure on quarterback Collin Hill – but not enough. He threw for 290 yards.
Long snapper William Klint Albright will never forget his debut. The freshman from Greeneville, No. 1 prep prospect in the country at his specialty, has a scholarship to do one important thing well, center the ball accurately for punts and place kicks.
His first snap was low and Paxton Brooks punted poorly. That mess was erased by a penalty.
The do-over was worse. The ball bounced back. Brooks didn’t think he had time to kick. In what looked like desperation, he returned it to sender, shoveled the ball to Albright. Centers are not eligible receivers.
By the grace of God, South Carolina did not cash in on the combo blunder. Pruitt reduced the pressure on Albright. Matthew Salansky, walk-on from Morristown, handled long-snapping responsibility the rest of the evening.
At the other end of the game, two Tennessee false starts helped South Carolina in clock management.
“We put ourselves in position to win the game on the final possession and didn’t get it done,” coach Will Muschamp said.
If all is well that ends well, Brooks can smile about the conclusion. His final punt had a rugby look. It hit and hopped down the field, took an unexpected bounce and glanced off an unsuspecting Gamecock’s leg.
Yes, Cam Smith has heard the coaching point, know where the ball is. Yes, punt returner Jammie Robinson was supposed to yell “poison” if the kick could hit a teammate.
Tennessee freshman receiver Jimmy Holiday, hustling in coverage, recovered with 1:29 remaining. Guarantano put the Vols in the victory formation and ran out the clock.
Tension has temporarily subsided. Some level of joy prevails in Big Orange Country. Tennessee has a seven-game winning streak.
Marvin West welcomes reader remarks or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org