COLUMBIA, S.C. – In what will surely go down as an instant classic, the Tennessee Vols (4-5, 1-4 SEC) secured win number four Saturday night after defeating South Carolina (4-5, 2-5) 45-42 in overtime.
Sophomore quarterback Josh Dobbs led the Vols back from a 14-point deficit with less than five minutes in the ball game, running for a three-yard score and hitting a wide open Jason Croom for a game-tying touchdown with 11 seconds remaining in the game.
In his first game as the starter, Dobbs threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns, completing 23 of his 40 passes.
Dobbs also set the school record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a game with 166, with three of those runs going for touchdowns.
“It keeps the defense on their heels and it allows us to have a balanced attack,” Dobbs said about his running ability. “We had a really good running game today and the offensive line did a good job of opening up holes. Then, when the receivers make plays, the defense doesn’t know what’s coming and it keeps them on their heels. We did a great job of executing the game plan.”
The Gamecocks’ offense started off strong, with Pharoh Cooper running for a touchdown for the first score of the game.
Cooper proved to be an absolute superstar for the South Carolina offense Saturday night, with the wide receiver racking up nearly 300 yards of total offense in the defeat.
The sophomore threw a 30-yard touchdown pass, ran three times for 23 yards and a touchdown, and caught 11 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns.
Not to be outdone, the Dobbs-led offense marched straight down the field, capped off by a one-yard Pig Howard touchdown run.
Howard was the Vols leading receiver, catching five passes for 109 yards and making some big plays down the stretch.
Tennessee hit pay dirt to begin the second quarter on a seven yard Josh Dobbs run, giving the Vols an early 14-7 lead.
The Gamecocks responded quickly, as Pharoh Cooper hit a wide open Brandon Wilds on a 30-yard touchdown pass with 6:35 to go in the second quarter to tie the game for the Gamecocks.
Dobbs again led the offense back down the field, scoring on a 36-yard touchdown run with seven seconds left in the second quarter to give the Vols a 21-14 lead halftime lead.
South Carolina came out of halftime red hot.
Brandon Wilds scored on a five yard run, tying the game early in the third quarter. After a missed Tennessee field goal, Dylan Thompson marched the Gamecock offense down the field and found his favorite target, Pharoh Cooper, for another 12-yard score.
A quick three and out started the fourth quarter for the Vols. The Gamecocks took over at their own 16-yard-line, with two quick runs being stuffed right at the line, but Thompson would not be denied.
Thompson would find a wide open Cooper again, connecting on an 85-yard touchdown, the longest pass of the Spurrier era. The Gamecocks led 35-21 early in the fourth.
After punts by each team, the Vols took over at the Gamecock 27-yard line. The South Carolina defense held the offense relatively well, until running back Jalen Hurd took a screen pass on fourth-and-3 for a touchdown.
It took the Gamecocks only 1:42 to score again, as Brandon Wilds rumbled 70 yards down the field to give South Carolina a 42-28 lead.
The Tennessee offense took over with less than five minutes in the half. Josh Dobbs hit four different receivers before running in another touchdown, cutting the deficit to 42-35.
The Vols were unable to recover the onside kick, but were able to hold the Gamecocks to a three-and-out that was capped off by a huge Derek Barnett sack.
With 1:23 left in the game, Dobbs again led another great scoring drive, finding Pig Howard and Jalen Hurd twice before connecting with Jason Croom to tie the game at 42-42 with 11 seconds remaining in the game.
The Vols took the first possession in overtime, but were only able to muster a 32-yard Aaron Medley field goal.
With Tennessee holding a 45-42 advantage, Thompson and the Gamecocks took over at the Tennessee 25-yard line.
Thompson dropped back on first down, only to be sacked by Curt Maggitt. On second down, Thompson dropped back and was sacked again, this time by freshman Derek Barnett, who racked up his third sack of the game.
“I thought the defensive front, especially Curt Maggitt coming off the edge with a whole other presence in overtime,” UT head coach Butch Jones said. “Same thing with Derek Barnett and you know, forced them to go all the way back. We wanted the ball first in overtime and to kind of put our defense on the field and let them win it. Because, you know, that’s a very, very talented offensive football team. Coach Spurrier, as we all know, does a great job creating mismatches in one-on-one matchups. But again, it’s a testament to these kids – the resiliency that they’ve shown all year long.”
After an incompletion on third down, the Gamecocks were forced to attempt a 58-yard field goal.
South Carolina kicker Elliott Fry was unable to get enough air under his field goal try, and it was blocked to end the game.
It proved to be a critical win for a team that has struggled to get over the hump to win close games.
“It was amazing,” linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said. “The theme of the game was ‘do whatever it takes.’ When it came down to it, we made plays and made it happen. In winning a close game it feels like we’re getting over that hump. We made plays and had guys step up and make plays in big situations.”
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