Tennessee football grades vs. South Carolina: Sifting through the ashes of a brutal loss

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

COLUMBIA, S.C. − Tennessee football's College Football Playoff dreams were wiped out by a sandstorm.

No. 5 Tennessee (9-2, 5-2 SEC) was dominated by South Carolina (7-4, 4-4) in a 63-38 loss at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.

Here are the grades for the Vols:

Offense: C

Tennessee's elite offense was inconsistent in a game where it couldn't be as the defense failed, putting all the pressure on the offense. It wasn't up to the challenge.

Hendon Hooker had some elite throws and three touchdowns, but was erratic. Hooker left in the fourth quarter with an injury. The wide receivers had drop issues. Penalties hit at the wrong time. The offensive line was abused throughout the first quarter as the Gamecocks set the tone on both sides of the ball.

Tennessee's offense made a key push before halftime, but came out flat after one third-quarter touchdown. UT didn't score in the fourth quarter until Cedric Tillman caught a 21-yard pass with 1:14 to play. South Carolina led 63-31 at that point and the result was long decided.

Defense: F

Tennessee's defense played its worst game of the season in a pathetic showing. The Vols failed to stop the Gamecocks. The failed to pressure USC quarterback Spencer Rattler. They were beaten repeatedly downfield.

The Gamecocks scored nine touchdowns and racked up 603 yards.

Rattler had eight passing touchdowns entering Saturday. The South Carolina quarterback threw four in the first half and finished with six, his best single-game showing for the Gamecocks. He terrorized Tennessee's defense with deep balls and by escaping the pocket and making big-time throws.

The Gamecocks, who averaged 28.6 points and 355 yards through nine games, had 35 first-half points and matched the 355 yards. It was an abysmal performance by the unit, whose only consistency Saturday was horrible play from start to finish.

Special teams: C-minus

Chase McGrath made a 27-yard field goal, while the group had a mistake when Paxton Brooks booted a kickoff out of bounds after UT pulled within 35-31. Brooks kicked another kickoff out of bounds in the fourth.

Coaching: F

South Carolina's offense schemed up Tennessee's offense over and over. It was a clinic by often-beleaguered Gamecocks offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield against UT defensive coordinator Tim Banks.

It was a dud of a day, and Tennessee's College Football Playoff hopes died with it.

Overall: D

The Vols had a magical season that tumbled to a pitiful end at South Carolina with its defense tanking.

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.