Report card: South Carolina football coaches get D in loss to Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — South Carolina football couldn't recapture the magic of its 2022 upset, suffering a 41-20 loss to Tennessee at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

The Gamecocks (2-3, 1-2 SEC) started with hope, taking a 10-7 lead over the No. 19 Vols (4-1, 1-1) in the first quarter. However, things quickly unraveled, and the South Carolina offense logged a combined six yards in four drives in the entire second quarter.

Tennessee outgained the Gamecocks offensively 477 yards to 333, and it was highly disruptive on defense with six sacks, three hurries and four pass breakups. South Carolina finished with a single sack as its lone tackle for loss.

Here's how we graded the Gamecocks' performance in Knoxville:

Offense: C

Quarterback Spencer Rattler had by far his least-productive performance of 2023, going 24-of-35 for 169 yards. He also threw his first interception outside of the fourth-quarter Hail Marys at Georgia. The pick was returned for a touchdown by Tennessee's Kamal Hadden.

Mario Anderson was a bright spot in the run game, finishing with 101 yards on 10 carries, plus a 75-yard touchdown. However, the rest of the running back room combined for five yards, and Rattler was the team's No. 2 rusher with 19 yards.

Defense: D

South Carolina's run defense gave up 238 yards on the ground, including 10 explosive runs of 10 or more yards. Jaylen Wright led Tennessee with 123 rushing yards, the third running back to have a 100-plus yard performance against the Gamecocks this season.

The defensive backs also struggled to contain quarterback Joe Milton, who averaged 11.5 yards per completion, though the unit avoided a failing grade thanks to two interceptions from DQ Smith and Jalon Kilgore.

Special teams: A-

Beamer Ball is back after an underwhelming couple of weeks. Kai Kroeger threw South Carolina's second-longest pass of the game on a fake punt, completing a 32-yard shot to Xavier Legette. Mitch Jeter also hit both of his field goals.

The Gamecocks nearly had a disaster when Tennessee returned a punt for a touchdown, but they keep their A grade thanks to a penalty on the Vols that brought the return back.

Coaching: D

The play calling did nothing to help their issues on third and fourth down, with multiple drives ending on passes that came up short. They also made some questionable personnel choices: Juju McDowell, the team's least effective short-yardage running back, got the carry and failed to convert on third-and-1 after Kroeger's fake punt, and TJ Sanders started at defensive tackle over the veteran Tonka Hemingway.

The team as a whole looked undisciplined and out of sorts, which ultimately comes down to coaching, and there weren't enough adjustments after halftime to redeem the early collapse.

Overall: C-

After the Gamecocks' success against Georgia two weeks ago, Saturday's loss felt like a regression. Outside of one big special teams play and Anderson's breakout performance, there wasn't a lot that went well for South Carolina.

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This article originally appeared on Greenville News: South Carolina football grades vs Tennessee: Coaching gets a D