The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: South Carolina falls to No. 21 Tennessee as both lines struggle

<p>Redshirt senior running back Mario Anderson rushes in for a Gamecock-touchdown attempt at Williams-Brice Stadium on Sept. 23, 2023. Anderson rushed for a season-high 88 yards on 26 carries.</p>
Redshirt senior running back Mario Anderson rushes in for a Gamecock-touchdown attempt at Williams-Brice Stadium on Sept. 23, 2023. Anderson rushed for a season-high 88 yards on 26 carries.

Both the offensive and defensive line struggled as South Carolina fell to No. 21 Tennessee 41-20 Saturday night in Knoxville. 

The Volunteers ran for 238 yards and sacked Gamecock redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Rattler six times.

The Volunteers ran the ball early and often against the Gamecocks. Tennessee’s running back trio of junior Jaylen Wright, senior Jabari Small and sophomore Dylan Sampson combined for 231 yards on 36 carries for more than six yards a carry.

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Tennessee redshirt senior quarterback Joe Milton didn’t have a spectacular game, throwing for just 239 yards with two interceptions. Milton’s performance was partially hindered when he lost top target redshirt senior wide receiver Bru McCoy to a gruesome leg injury. 

McCoy was carted off the field and taken to the hospital, but Tennessee's offensive overcame thanks to its line. The team created gaps for the running backs. Wright ran the ball extremely well, gaining 123 yards on 16 attempts, averaging nearly eight yards per carry.

“I thought we were playing pretty good defense at halftime, you know, when we went in there at halftime, and I think they had 80 yards, and one of those came on an explosive run," Gamecock head coach Shane Beamer said. "Their offense played really, really good in the second half. I, I don't know. We gotta get a lot better."

Rattler only threw for 169 yards and had no touchdowns. He threw a tough second quarter pick six to push Tennessee’s advantage to double digits before halftime. 

South Carolina’s offensive line, especially when it came to pass blocking, was not up to standard. It gave up six more sacks, which factored into why Rattler struggled as much as he did.

South Carolina’s leading receiver for the game, graduate student tight end Trey Knox, only had 51 yards.  It also didn't help that the team is still without 2022 All-SEC senior wide receiver senior Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr. due to a foot injury.

We got to get better at wide receiver, there's no doubt about it. We got to get healthy at wide receiver," Beamer said. "We can sit here and say that we're just going to rely on, you know, Xavier Legette every single game and then Trey Knox, who thought he got an opportunity to have a good game tonight, he did, but we got to continue to develop depth and get better at that position.”

The Gamecocks had a decent performance in its running game thanks to redshirt senior running back Mario Anderson's 101 yards rushing on just 10 carries, which included a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to cut Tennessee’s lead to 31-17.

Beamer attempted to be aggressive with play calling, even trying and successfully converting a fake punt. However, the team went just two for 14 on third down and two for five on fourth down.

Beamer said the team had a lot of missed opportunities and that made it tough for it to win the game.

I’m proud of the effort from our guys, but we did not play well enough to win the game," Beamer said. "When you're on the road in the SEC, got to capitalize on your opportunities, and we didn’t do a great job of capitalizing on our opportunities tonight."

South Carolina’s record falls to 2-3. The team will have a bye week before returning to Willams-Brice Stadium for its homecoming game Oct. 14 against the University of Florida.