For one night, everything came together for South Carolina’s offense.
Spencer Rattler flashed all of his potential and then some with by far the best game of his career in Columbia, going 30-of-37 passing for a career-high 438 yards and six touchdowns. James Madison transfer Antwane Wells Jr. exploded for 177 receiving yards on eleven receptions, the Gamecocks reached the end zone on nine out of their 11 possessions and thumped Tennessee 63-38 in front of 79,041 fans on Senior night at Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Carolina (7-4, 4-4 SEC) entered the game coming off its worst performance of the season in a 38-6 loss at Florida, while Tennessee (9-2, 5-2 SEC) steamrolled into Columbia off the back off 66-point onslaught against Missouri. The Volunteers were favored by 23 points, and South Carolina’s top offensive weapon MarShawn Lloyd missed his third consecutive game with a deep thigh bruise.
Rattler made all of it moot with the game of his life.
His third-and-5 conversion to Traevon Kenion on the first big play of the game was a sign of things to come. That strike over the middle set up his first touchdown of the game, a 19-yard rope to Jaheim Bell that got the crowd in the game early.
It stayed there all night.
Even after Tennessee responded with a Jabari Small touchdown run on a drive that only took 64 seconds, South Carolina immediately got back to work on its offensive masterpiece. Rattler connected with Josh Vann on an inch-perfect pass down the seam to make it 14-7, and when he hit JuJu McDowell for another one later it doubled the lead before the first quarter was even out. It was the first time since 2013 the Gamecocks had scored 21 points in a first quarter against an FBS opponent.
In a microcosm of the game at large — turning around a disappointment in Gainesville into the signature win of the Shane Beamer era so far — South Carolina withstood every punch.
When Tennessee scored a fourth-and-goal touchdown pass from Hendon Hooker to Cedric Tillman that was inches away from being a game-changing stop, Dakereon Joyner came back and scored from a yard out to take the margin to two scores. In the aftermath of secondary lynchpin Nick Emmanwori getting ejected from the game for a targeting penalty that moved the Volunteers into the red zone, the rest of the defense immediately bowed up and forced a field goal attempt. After Tennessee scored 14 unanswered points to trim the South Carolina lead to 35-31 early in the third quarter, the offense hit back with a crisp scoring drive. Nine plays, 4:50 off the clock, and 65 yards elapsed as Wells took the ball into the end zone on an end around.
Every punch, a counterpunch. Every time the specter of doubt crept in, South Carolina forcefully swatted it away with a metronomic offensive efficiency not seen all season.
And through the second half, the defense made its typical adjustments. Tennessee’s high-powered offense, the one who entered the game leading the nation in yards per game, spent the evening chasing the play and never being able to reach it.
True freshman Peyton Williams — in for Emmanwori — came up clutch with a third-down pass break-up. Marcellas Dial had one as well, on the stop that set South Carolina up for the dagger when Rattler tossed his fifth touchdown pass of the night to Wells out in the flat.
And late in the game, with a 56-31 lead in tow and the student section already surging towards the front rows for a field storming, Rattler finished it off in the most emphatic way possible.
He fired his sixth touchdown of the night, this one to Jalen Brooks on a 20-yard crossing pattern that gave the Gamecocks 60 points on the board and their program record for most first downs in a game with 35.
After one of the most shocking upset wins in school history, South Carolina will now turn around and take all of the momentum into the rivalry game at Clemson next Saturday at noon E.T.