Lorenzo Ward and Jadeveon Clowney crisscrossed each other in the hallway following South Carolina's 38-35 win over Tennessee. The Gamecock defensive coordinator greeted his sophomore with a smile and a hearty slap across the chest.
Ward leaned in. "Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time ballgames," he said.
It didn't matter that South Carolina had found little luck against Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. Never mind that UT's offensive line, second in the nation in sacks allowed, had kept Clowney out of the backfield all day. None of that mattered on a 1st-and-10 from the Gamecock 19 with 1:18 remaining. When the defense needed a big stop, its all-everything defensive end delivered the most clutch save by a Gamecock this side of Matt Price.
Clowney's strip-sack of Bray -- and Shaq Wilson's fumble recovery -- helped seal South Carolina's third straight win over the Volunteers. The day will be remembered more for the play that resulted in Marcus Lattimore's severe leg injury. But when it came to clinching their ninth straight home win, the Gamecocks showed they still have plenty of big-time players left.
"Notes, Quotes, and Anecdotes" as South Carolina heads into its bye week:
Not This Time: Don't discount the clutch fumble recovery by Wilson, either. Entering the game, South Carolina had the worst fumble recovery percentage in the nation among teams that have forced 10 or more (3 of 14, 21.4%).
Justice For All: Justice Cunningham walked out of Williams-Brice Stadium with his game ball, his iPad, and his usual stoic face. Even a career day for the senior tight end (6 catches, 108 yards) couldn't alter his expression.
"I was mad I fell. I wanted that touchdown," Cunningham said of his 45-yard gallop in the fourth quarter. Cunningham stumbled out of bounds at the 5 yard-line, moments after delivering a vicious stiffarm to freshman safety LaDarrell McNeil.
Tight end Justice Cunningham set career highs in receptions (6) and receiving yards (108)
Cunningham said me he was happy to make opportunistic catches against the Tennessee secondary.
"Linebackers and DB's, they're worried about the wide receivers. They don't think we're really going to catch the ball," he said.
As a result, Cunningham finished with the most receiving yards by a Gamecock tight end in years.
Flipping The Field: After forcing a three-and-out with 0:40 remaining, Tennessee still had a chance to string together a game-tying drive. But with the wind at his back, Tyler Hull wound up and hammered a sailing, 51-yard punt. By the time returner Cordarrelle Patterson found his bearings, Kenny Miles wrapped him up for an eight-yard loss. Maligned for its misadventures against Florida, the 59-yard net punt was South Carolina's longest of the season. It couldn't have come at a more opportune time.
2 Chains: Connor Shaw and Tyler Bray were especially deadly when faced with long yardage. On 3rd downs of 7+ yards, the duo combined to go 7-for-9 for 157 yards (22.4 yards/completion).
3rd and 7+ Yards Comp./Att. Yds. Yds./Completion First Downs
Tyler Bray 4-5 97 24.2 4
Connor Shaw 3-4 60 20.0 2
Shaw finished with a career-high 356 passing yards, shattering his previous best of 311 against Kentucky in 2011.
And Finally... Keep #21 in your thoughts.
"Inside The Chart" will be gone fishing during the bye week. We'll start back up a week from Wednesday as we dive into our prep for the final SEC contest against Arkansas. Thanks for diving "Inside The Chart" with us. -AD--