KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- — The mission for No. 21 Tennessee on Saturday night against South Carolina was to dictate the game from the trenches.
The domination ultimately paved the way, with Joe Milton throwing for 239 yards and Tennessee sacking Spencer Rattler six times in a 41-20 victory.
Jaylen Wright ran for 123 yards and a touchdown for the Volunteers (4-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) in their first game against the Gamecocks (2-3, 1-2) since a meltdown last season that cost them a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
“This was a line of scrimmage game,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “We challenged (the players on offense and defense) all week. They had to own it.”
Vols defensive lineman James Pearce Jr. had two sacks.
“We had to play together and play relentless,” Pearce said. “(Heupel) was preaching all week that we've got to take over the game.”
South Carolina struggled on third down (2 of 14) and fourth down (2 of 5).
“When you (struggle on third and fourth down) you make it tough on yourself,” Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer said.
Kamal Hadden returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown to give Tennessee a 24-10 lead at halftime.
“I trust Spencer in that situation,” Beamer said.
Rattler threw for 164 yards and Mario Anderson ran for 101 yards, with a 75-yarder for a score.
“We just didn’t find a rhythm all night,” Rattler said. “We’re 2-3, but it doesn’t feel like 2-3. It’s their Super Bowl. Congrats to them.”
Milton targeted slot receiver Squirrel White nine times and he caught all nine for 104 yards, including an amazing 50-yarder that set up a touchdown.
“I didn't even see the ball," White said about the pass that came with a defender draped in front of his face. "I felt the ball hit my hands and just held onto it.
ODDS & ENDS
Tennessee's Cooper Mays, generally regarded as one of the top centers in the SEC, saw his first action of the seasont. Midway through preseason camp, Mays underwent an unspecified medical procedure. At the time, he was expected to be ready for the start of the season. Five weeks later, he finally made his debut. ... A special guest of the Vols was former quarterback Hendon Hooker. Now a rookie with the Detroit Lions, Hooker was able to visit because the Lions played Thursday night. It was the South Carolina game last year when Hooker suffered a torn ACL, which derailed his Heisman Trophy campaign. ... Vols receiver Bru McCoy, a redshirt senior transfer from Southern California, was taken from the field on a stretcher after a right leg injury midway through the second quarter.
Still smarting from a frustrating loss to Florida a couple weeks ago, Tennessee is slowly climbing its way back up the ladder. The victory over the Gamecocks added a bit more credibility than the conquest of UTSA, but the Vols’ next couple opponents — Texas A&M and Alabama — would be very impressive.
South Carolina: Hosts Florida on Oct. 14.
Tennessee: Hosts Texas A&M on Oct. 14.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll