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October 29, 2011
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Little did D.J. Swearinger, a one-time Tennessee commitment, know what his diving, touchdown-saving interception would produce on Rocky Top.
Magic, that's what.
Swearinger's second pick in two games led directly to a momentous 20-play, 98-yard scoring drive capped by Connor Shaw's five-yard TD run late in the third quarter, the nail in the coffin of USC's 14-3 victory in front of 96,655 mostly quiet fans at Neyland Stadium.
The Gamecocks improved to 7-1 overall, 5-1 in the SEC and have now won six straight true road games dating back to last season when they beat Vanderbilt in Nashville.
"Well, we won the game somehow," USC head coach Steve Spurrier said. "We weren't pretty on offense most of the game. We ran the ball well, gained a bunch of yards. Our defense was super."
Tennessee fell to 3-5 overall, 0-5 in the SEC.
Freshman Brandon Wilds looked a lot like the guy he replaced, Marcus Lattimore, as he rushed for 137 yards on 28 attempts in the first significant action of his career. Wilds came into the contest with 75 yards in seven games.
USC battered the Tennessee defense with 231 yards rushing, 163 while the Volunteers were held to 35 yards on 21 carries.
After balancing the run and pass in the first half (16-14), the USC offense took the field with 12:22 left in the third quarter moments after Swearinger's game-changing defensive play.
The Gamecocks turned to smash-mouth football, driving Tennessee backwards as Wilds and Shaw alternated finding the holes in the Tennessee defense.
Wilds carried the ball 11 times for 51 yards on the drive. The final play, though, belonged to Shaw when he took the snap, scampered up the middle and dove into the end zone for the touchdown.
"We had just thrown the pick, so we were trying to run the ball and Brandon kept picking up third-and-shorts. I've only had one other 20-play drive in my life and they both happened here," Spurrier said.
It was the third-longest scoring drive in school history and the longest scoring drive by a SEC team this season in terms of plays (20) and time of possession (11:35). LSU had a 99-yard drive against Tennessee.
USC ran 26 of the 30 plays in the third quarter. Wilds finished the night with 168 yards of total offense as he also had a career-high 31 yards receiving.
"We got a little surge there in the second half and had some pretty good run plays called for a change," Spurrier said. "We had some good audibles called at the line and did some stuff that helped us a bit."
The fourth quarter was all about the USC defense. After Wilds fumbled at the SC 28 with 12:27 left - arguably his only mistake of the night - Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley threw into the end zone on the next snap, but Stephon Gilmore intercepted the pass for USC's second key pick of the game.
Worley, a true freshman from Rock Hill, S.C., finished 10-for-26 passing for 105 yards in his first career start.
"We fought them hard, but we're just a mess on offense," Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. "We can't run. We struggled to throw. We had the ball twice in the red zone and turned the ball over."
Later, after backup QB Matt Simms had driven the Tennessee offense to the shadow of the red zone, the Gamecocks forced an incomplete pass on 4th-and-1 at the SC 27 with 6:23 left.
USC proceeded to drain the clock with a 10-play, 54-yard drive into the red zone.
Shaw was 10-of-18 passing for 87 yards and one touchdown in improving his record as a starting quarterback to 4-0.
"Our defense really bailed us out and the offensive line stepped up," Shaw said. "When you have 96,000 fans you just have to manage the game and be smart."
USC controlled the ball for 36:18 compared to 23:42 for the struggling Vols. USC held the ball for over 24 minutes in the second half.
USC converted 10 of 18 third downs, while Tennessee was just 2 of 14.
"We're not a very good passing team right now," Spurrier said. "I'm not much of a passing coach any more. But we're 7-1 somehow. That's the most important thing. We had a lot of possession time there in the second half and finally made a bunch of third downs."
The second half started badly for USC when a personal foul penalty on Terrence Campbell wiped out a decent gain by Shaw. Moments later, Shaw's deflected pass was grabbed by UT's Prentiss Waggner at the UT 44 and he returned it to the USC 2.
Were it not for a touchdown-saving tackle by Cody Gibson, Waggner would have scored. The importance of that tackle became evident when Swearinger switched to receiver Da'Rick Rogers and made a diving interception at the two-yard line, a play that was reminiscent of his diving interception on Mississippi State's final play two weeks ago.
"I was supposed to stay on my man, but I switched over to (Rogers). That's just me wanting to guard the best player," Swearinger said.
Gibson was awarded a game ball for his TD-saving tackle on Waggner.
Artistically, it wasn't a eye-pleasing first half for South Carolina, but the Gamecocks did enough to take the lead at intermission.
Both offenses struggled for most of the first half, but South Carolina was able to cross into the end zone while Tennessee was held to a field goal as the Gamecocks led, 7-3 after 30 minutes of play.
"It is what it is, but we have a whole half to play," USC head coach Steve Spurrier said going into the locker room.
USC scored the lone TD of the first half on a fourth down pass from Shaw to freshman tight end Rory Anderson.
Shaw was 7-of-14 passing for 73 yards in the first half. Wilds had 42 yards on five carries in the first extended action of his brief career.
USC outgained Tennessee, 141-128, in the first half. Tennessee was held to 29 yards rushing on 17 attempts.
The USC defense forced a three-and-out on the opening series of the game, but Ace Sanders muffed the punt and the Vols fell on the football at the SC 18.
The Gamecock defense stiffened after Tennessee moved inside the 5-yard line and the Vols settled for a 21-yard field with 11:03 left in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead.
Opponents have now scored first in all eight games this season against USC.
USC gained a total of 13 yards on their first two possessions as Spurrier again looked to establish the passing game early. But Shaw misfired early.
After Tennessee missed a 47-yard field goal attempt (Gilmore was credited with a block when the ball glanced off his hand) in the final minute of the first quarter, Wilds snapped off a 12-yard run to close out the first quarter.
USC moved into Tennessee territory early in the second quarter, but a holding call and a sack of 4 yards on a QB scramble doomed the drive.
USC forced a three-and-out with Tennessee deep in their own territory and a short punt gave the Gamecocks their best field position of the night - the UT 44.
The first play from scrimmage was a reverse to Damiere Byrd for an 11-yard gain. Eventually, a pass to Justice Cunningham set up a fourth-and-1 from the UT 23. Thinking the Gamecocks would run the ball, UT crowded the line of scrimmage.
Shaw ran play-action, rolled right and with a Vols defender right in his face, he lofted a pass to a wide-open Anderson, who had snuck behind the Tennessee secondary. Anderson, a true freshman, caught the pass and strolled into the end zone to give USC a 7-3 lead with 7:43 left in the second quarter.
Tennessee moved into USC territory on their ensuing possession (laser beam throw by Worley for 25-yard gain), and faced a 3rd and 1 at the USC 43. Dooley called for a deep pass down the right side and the ball slipped through the hands of Da'Rick Rogers.
The next play, Worley tried a sneak over the center, but he was stopped inches short of the first down marker. USC took over near midfield, but did nothing with the good field possession.
USC has posted consecutive wins over Tennessee for the first time in school history.
USC: = 0-7-7-0 = 14
TEN: = 3-0-0-0 = 3
1Q - UT, Palardy, 21-yard field goal, 11:03 (0-3)
2Q - USC, Shaw 23-yard pass to Anderson, 7:43 (7-3)
3Q - USC, Shaw 5-yard run, 00:47 (14-3)
Total Yards - USC 318, TEN 186;
Passing Yards - USC 87, TEN 151;
Rushing Yards - USC 231, TEN 35;
Individual Passing - USC, Connor Shaw 10-of-18 for 87 yards; TEN, Justin Worley, 10-of-26 for 105 yards;
Individual Rushing - USC, Brandon Wilds 28-137; TEN, Poole 18-38.
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