Tennessee and South Carolina have been annual rivals for 26 years now. But after Carolina’s initial upset in 1992 – the final nail in Johnny Majors’ coffin – the rivalry lacked much importance during a 12-game Tennessee winning streak. That changed when Steve Spurrier arrived in 2005, beating the Vols in Knoxville. Since then, every Tennessee-South Carolina game in Columbia has become a landmark moment for the Vols in one way or another. It’s in part due to Carolina’s rise under Spurrier. But it’s also just an interesting twist of fate that the Vols have come to Columbia so often at their own crossroads. As Tennessee heads to South Carolina again this weekend, here’s a look back at the last six trips to Williams-Brice Stadium:
2006: The Last November as a Title Contender
On October 28, 2006, the #8 Vols earned a little payback for Spurrier’s win in Knoxville the year before. With College Gameday on hand, Tennessee beat South Carolina 31-24 under the lights in Columbia, turning back a 17-14 Carolina lead at the start of the fourth quarter with a 13-play, 80-yard drive. The win sent the Vols to November at 7-1, the only blemish a one-point loss to eventual BCS Champion Florida. But a late game injury would sideline Erik Ainge the following week, when the Vols fell to #13 LSU 28-24. Tennessee hasn’t been in the title conversation in November since then.
2008: Fulmer Forced Out
Already reeling at 3-5, Tennessee was no better at South Carolina. A 27-6 victory for the Gamecocks included just 207 yards from the Clawfense, and days later Fulmer was officially stepping down. He would finish out the season, though the Vols would fall to Wyoming the next week.
2010: Tyler Bray Emerges
The Vols and #20 South Carolina were tied at halftime, but a strip-sack fumble by Matt Simms was returned for a touchdown on the second play of the third quarter. That prompted Derek Dooley to hand the keys to true freshman Tyler Bray. His first pass was a pick six. But it got way better from there: Bray finished 9-of-15 for 159 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Vols rally to tie the game with 13 minutes to play. South Carolina won out behind Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery, but the Vols found their quarterback. Bray would lead Tennessee to a 4-0 run in November for bowl eligibility, taking several Tennessee freshman records along the way.
2012: Derek Dooley’s Last Chance
At #13 South Carolina, with Dooley’s Vols 3-4 and the head coach still looking for his first ranked win, Tennessee almost made it happen. Rallying back from three different 14-point deficits, Tennessee pulled within three at 38-35 with 8:35 to play, the intercepted Connor Shaw on 4th-and-4 at the UT 30 with 4:46 to go. Tyler Bray got the Vols in the red zone with less than two minutes to go when Jadeveon Clowney – silent all day up to this point – scored a sack/fumble, recovered by the Gamecocks. Dooley wouldn’t officially be fired for another few weeks, but the last of us left the ship on this day in Columbia.
2014: Josh Dobbs Emerges
Perhaps the least-tainted happy memory of the Butch Jones era. A week after entering the Alabama game and raising plenty of eyebrows, Josh Dobbs earned the first start of his sophomore season and never looked back. On the day: 301 yards passing and 166 yards rushing, a new school record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Five total touchdowns, including two in the last five minutes to turn back a 42-28 hole and get the game to overtime. Sacks on first and second down by Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett led to a missed 58-yard field goal to win it for the Vols. Though the ultimate end for Butch Jones wasn’t what we wanted, this game remains the beginning of the real hope for something more. From November 1, 2014 to October 1, 2016 the Vols went 18-5 with wins over four ranked teams, those five losses by Jones’ now-infamous 25 points. Then we lost to Texas A&M in double overtime and got smoked by Alabama. And then…
2016: The End of the Beginning of the End for Butch Jones
Still alive in the SEC East race and in total control of their own destiny for the New Year’s Six, having survived a gauntlet of four straight ranked teams plus the Battle of Bristol, and coming off a bye week…the Vols lost to South Carolina 24-21 as a 14.5-point favorite. Dobbs, so spectacular two years earlier against the Gamecocks, was 12-of-26 for 161 yards passing and just 27 yards rushing. This was Jalen Hurd’s final game in a Tennessee uniform. And for Jones, it ended any association with that 18-5 run: 4-4 in their last eight in 2016, then 4-8 in 2017.