Tennessee blocked Jadeveon Clowney all day Saturday, probably as well as anybody has blocked him all season.
But with South Carolina’s defense on its heels and the Vols driving for the potential game-winning touchdown, Clowney saved the day for the Gamecocks with a clutch forced fumble with a little more than a minute to play.
His sack and strip of Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray allowed No. 13 South Carolina to escape 38-35 in what was a bittersweet win for the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium. Star running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a gruesome looking injury to his right leg/knee in the first half. Lattimore, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear to his left knee last season, was carted from the field and taken to the hospital.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after the game that he had been informed that Lattimore’s injury was “pretty severe.”
While the Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2 SEC) managed to snap a two-game losing streak, there’s only one question that will reverberate on Rocky Top for the remainder of the season: Is Derek Dooley out as Tennessee's coach?
It’s going to be very difficult for him to survive. This is only Dooley's third season, and he probably hasn’t had enough time to turn around what was a mess when he arrived in 2010 with all the coaching transition and a roster that had been depleted.
But this is the epitome of a results-driven business, and the Vols (3-5, 0-5 SEC) simply haven’t produced any results on Dooley’s watch. They’ve now lost 12 of their past 13 SEC games and joined Vanderbilt as the only team in SEC history to be 0-5 in the league for three straight years.
Tennessee played well on offense Saturday, and the Vols’ offensive line is one of the best in the SEC. But their defense is embarrassingly bad. They’ve given up a total of 211 points in five SEC games and have yielded 38 or more points in all five games.
Dooley probably didn’t help himself any at the end of the game when the Vols used their final timeout after it looked like South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw stepped out of bounds, which would have stopped the clock.
As it was, Bray was intercepted by South Carolina’s Victor Hampton with 23 seconds to play to seal the game for the Gamecocks.
The Vols now face a November that will essentially become a “Dooley Watch.”
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart isn’t talking, but it’s doubtful that anything the Vols do in November will be enough to save Dooley’s job.