football Edit

Tennessee still relishes 2013 victory over USC

HOOVER, Ala. - South Carolina fans for years to come will recall only sour memories when thinking of the 2013 Tennessee game.
Marquez North's incredible catch, Connor Shaw's worst performance in a Gamecock uniform, Steve Spurrier's play-calling down the stretch and Michael Palardy's 19-yard field goal as time expired will be among the more prominent of those memories.
The 23-21 loss to a struggling Volunteers squad in Neyland Stadium ultimately kept South Carolina out of the SEC Championship Game, and might have cost the Gamecocks a BCS National Championship Game appearance.
Oct. 19, 2013 is remembered much more fondly in Knoxville, Tennessee.
"I have such respect for Coach Spurrier, what he's been able to do at South Carolina," said Tennessee head coach Butch Jones on Tuesday at SEC Media Days. "But that was a great, great win for us moving forward."
The victory did little for Tennessee in terms of momentum, as the Volunteers would lose their next four games by an average of nearly 25 points before beating Kentucky to end the season.
Tennessee finished 5-7 and missed bowl season, but Jones pointed to the South Carolina game as a building block of his work to restore the program to its former prominence.
"It was a critical win for us," Jones said. "There were so many things that went into that game, so many illustrations of what it takes to play winning football, making critical plays at critical moments in the game.
"I think it showed a bit of some resiliency and perseverance by our seniors."
Junior offensive lineman Mack Crowder got his first and only career start in Tennessee's victory over South Carolina, helping the Volunteers rush for 146 yards and win the possession battle.
Crowder vividly remembers sophomore receiver Marquez North's one-handed 39-yard catch down the left sideline with cornerback Ahmad Christian draped all over him.
Crowder still marvels at the catch, which came on third-and-10 and got Tennessee into field goal range on its final drive to set up Palardy's game-winning kick.
"He makes catches like that a lot because he constantly works on it," Crowder said. "You'll see him after workouts on the jugs machine, just constantly working on his hands.
"That was a ridiculous catch though. Those don't come around too often."
Jones also recalled one moment that had his hair standing on end: letting the clock run down to three seconds before spiking the ball and having Palardy kick the field goal.
"A lot of people don't even realize this, but you're sitting there, and you're running the clock down for a game-winning field goal, you have no timeouts yet, as a coach you're making the decision," Jones said. "Do you spike the ball with 11 seconds left? When you make the field goal, you have to kick off. Are you going to rely on your discipline because we snapped the ball with three seconds left?
"If we would have jumped off-sides, 10 seconds run off. We lose the game.
"There's those things that we can continue to move forward on and teach lessons that went into that game and having players step up and make critical plays at critical moments of the game."
The victory was Tennessee's first in 19 tries against ranked opponents, dating back to their 31-13 win over the Gamecocks in Knoxville in 2009.
"I just remember how exciting it was to have that big win, knowing what it felt like to beat an SEC opponent again," Crowder said. "We're wanting more of those this upcoming SEC season, and that's something that we're driving for."
Crowder said beating South Carolina helped him buy into what Jones is doing at Tennessee.
"Coach Jones, he has a lot of excitement and intensity every day," Crowder said. "He has a certain style of play that he holds all his players to, and he pushes us every day to fit that style of play.
"If we continue to do that - what he wants us to do - I believe that he'll put this program on the right track where it should be."
Tennessee junior linebacker Curt Maggitt, who redshirted last season while recovering from offseason surgeries, said it's nice to reflect on big wins, but that the Volunteers can't live in the past.
"That was a great win for team No. 117," said Maggitt. "But now we've got to move on and look to Utah State and put all of our focus there.
"We can't look too long in the past."