The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina lets one slip away against Tennessee

Connor Shaw doubtful for Missouri game after knee sprain

South Carolina football has had consistency issues all year, but many fans thought that last week’s dominant showing at Arkansas would be a turning point in the season.

However, the Gamecocks’ youth-driven mistakes caught up with them Saturday, falling 23-21 in Knoxville, Tenn. to Tennessee on a last-second field goal.

“They won the game,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “A play or two here or there, we had a lot of careless penalties today that, in a close game, they come back to haunt you.”

Tennessee looked to be in control from the beginning of the game, forcing South Carolina to go three-and-out on its first two offensive possessions and recovering a Gamecock fumble on their third drive.

The Gamecocks (5-2, 3-2 SEC) were on the wrong side of the turnover battle for the whole game Saturday, giving up possession on one of their two fumbles and giving up the ball again on senior quarterback Connor Shaw’s first interception of the year.

Shaw’s day wouldn’t get any better as he went down with a left knee strain late in the fourth quarter while taking a sack. The senior had to be helped off the field and did not return.

Shaw will not have to undergo surgery, but he is doubtful for Saturday’s game at Missouri.

“Injury-wise, Connor Shaw is actually walking around a little bit,” Spurrier said during his Sunday teleconference.

Spurrier also said that he believes Shaw will be able to return this season.

According to Spurrier, the costliest errors on the day came from special teams.

“It seems like we always get a penalty on kickoff return or punt return,” Spurrier said. “Our guys can’t play by the rules, and maybe field position was extremely important in a close game like [Saturday].”

In freshman Pharoh Cooper’s second game as South Carolina’s return man, he fielded two punts for just eight yards total and collected 58 yards on three kickoffs, breaking one run for 21 yards. But a special teams mistake, a holding penalty on a would-be big return by Cooper in the fourth quarter, gave up favorable field position for the Gamecocks that could have allowed them to put the game out of reach.

Along with the errors came unfortunate breaks for South Carolina, the most crucial of which being Volunteer wideout Marquez North’s miraculous one-handed catch against redshirt sophomore cornerback Ahmad Christian that kept Tennessee’s game-winning drive alive.

“They made a play. I thought Ahmad had good coverage,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “We played ‘man-free’ and the receiver made a good play.”

One of the most controversial moments in the game came in the fourth quarter with South Carolina backed up in its own territory, clinging to a one-point lead. The Tennessee defense had forced a fourth-and-two, and Spurrier appeared to want to leave the offense on the field to attempt the conversion.

Two critical timeouts later, however, the Gamecocks ultimately punted the ball and Tennessee would go on to run the clock down to three seconds before kicking the game-winning field goal as time expired.

“We were thinking about going for it,” Spurrier said. “Looking back, I always tell myself to go for those, but you always look stupid if you leave them on the 30-yard line.”

The coach said Tennessee’s defensive front didn’t give the offense the look it was hoping for, which lead to the confusion of whether or not South Carolina would attempt the fourth-down conversion.

While the coaches poured over scenarios on the sideline, the players on the field, such as sophomore running back Mike Davis, were left scratching their heads, waiting for further instruction.

“My mindset was let’s go for it, let’s get it,” Davis said. “And we called the second [timeout] and we ended up punting and I was just like, ‘Hey, I don’t know what’s going on.’”

With South Carolina’s loss to Tennessee being one of many major upsets in the SEC over the weekend, the Gamecocks are far from out of contention for an Eastern Division title. And after South Carolina collected its second loss of the season Saturday, Spurrier made sure to recognize the Volunteers for their inspired effort.

“Give Tennessee credit,” Spurrier said. “I think they outplayed us, although we were within a play or two, I guess, of winning. But we didn’t do it.”