KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — First, South Carolina lost its quarterback. Then it lost a game it was expected to win.
Michael Palardy made a 19-yard field goal as time expired Saturday to give Tennessee a 23-21 victory that snapped the 11th-ranked Gamecocks’ four-game winning streak.
Palardy had predicted such a scenario a day earlier in a conversation with Tennessee coach Butch Jones.
“I said, ‘You’ve got the game-winner tomorrow, right?’ ” Jones said. “And he said, ‘I got you, Coach.’ ”
Palardy’s field goal came after South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw was injured while being sacked by Marlon Walls and Daniel McCullers with about five minutes remaining. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said afterward that Shaw had a sprained knee.
“I think he sort of got tackled on it,” Spurrier said. “It collapsed under him.”
Shaw was the latest Southeastern Conference star to get hurt while facing Tennessee. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel, Georgia running back Keith Marshall and Georgia wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley all had season-ending injuries in their teams’ games against the Volunteers.
Tennessee (4-3, 1-2 SEC) got into field-goal range on a spectacular 39-yard catch by freshman Marquez North, who snared the ball with his left hand at the South Carolina 26 while being closely covered by cornerback Ahmad Christian. Four runs by Marlin Lane got the Vols to the South Carolina 2 and set up the field goal.
“That was just an impressive catch,” South Carolina linebacker T.J. Holloman said.
Tennessee had lost 19 consecutive games against ranked foes since a 31-13 victory over a 21st-ranked South Carolina team on Oct. 31, 2009.
Mike Davis rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown for South Carolina (5-2, 3-2), which erased a 17-7 halftime deficit before seeing its SEC Eastern Division title hopes suffer a major blow. Shaw had a touchdown run and a touchdown pass, though he was 7 of 21 and threw his first interception of the season.
“They came out, played fast, did the things we expect them to do,” Davis said. “We just didn’t execute.”
South Carolina was coming off a 52-7 victory at Arkansas that represented its most one-sided road win since 1912, but the Gamecocks weren’t nearly as polished Saturday. South Carolina’s offense struggled throughout the first half, aside from a 76-yard touchdown pass from Shaw to Damiere Byrd on the opening play of the second quarter.
The Gamecocks also got some bad luck late in the first half.
South Carolina believed it had recovered a fumble at about the Tennessee 30 in the final minute of the first half when Jadeveon Clowney stuffed Vols running back Rajion Neal. The play instead was ruled an incomplete pass, as Neal threw the ball toward quarterback Justin Worley on his way to the ground.
“That was a fumble,” said Clowney, who had 2 ½ tackles for loss. “He wasn’t trying to throw. I don’t know what the ref was watching, but it was a fumble. He made a bad call. You never want to leave it in the ref’s hands.”
South Carolina regained the momentum after a gutsy fourth-down call.
Shaw scrambled 9 yards for a first down on fourth-and-8 from the Tennessee 45 in the third quarter. Shaw capped the drive by pitching right to Davis on third-and-6 for a 21-yard touchdown.
After Palardy’s 46-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left on Tennessee’s next possession, South Carolina grabbed a 21-17 lead on Shaw’s 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
Tennessee cut the lead to 21-20 with 10:11 remaining on Palardy’s 33-yard field goal, which was set up by North’s leaping 48-yard reception. But the Vols stalled after reaching South Carolina territory on their next two possessions.
South Carolina, which has gone 6 of 6 on fourth-down conversions over the last two weeks, considered trying to put the game away with one more fourth-down attempt. South Carolina faced fourth-and-2 from its own 26 with 2:55 left when Spurrier kept his offense on the field and called two straight timeouts before finally opting to punt.
“We were thinking about going for it,” Spurrier said. “We went up there and if it looked good, we were thinking about going for it. Then, the second time, they actually changed their defense a little bit. We thought we had a little bit of a hole there. ... But looking back, I always tell myself to go for those.”