KNOXVILLE — A true freshman skill player making his first start was the key to victory in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night, but it wasn’t Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley.
South Carolina freshman Brandon Wilds rushed for 137 yards on 28 carries and quarterback Connor Shaw capped a 20-play, 98-yard drive with a 5-yard TD run late in the third quarter to complete the scoring in the Gamecocks’ 14-3 victory.
South Carolina improved to 5-1 in the SEC and 7-1 overall. The Volunteers (3-5), which finished with 35 yards rushing on 21 attempts, fell to 0-5 in the league.
“We fought them hard,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said, “but we’re just a mess on offense. … We couldn’t get anything going on offense.”
The 6-foot-1, 223-pound Wilds, who was taking over for injured Marcus Lattimore, carried 11 times for 51 yards on the USC scoring drive that took 11:35 of the third quarter.
Shaw’s TD run came on a quarterback draw after a USC timeout. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier had running back Kenny Miles go in motion to empty the USC backfield — and Tennessee’s defensive box.
Shaw, a sophomore who improved to 4-0 since taking over as the starter for the departed Stephen Garcia, finished with 64 yards on 16 carries and passed for 87 yards and a TD. He scrambled for 18 yards to the Tennessee 21-yard line on the otherwise methodical march in the third quarter that began after D.J. Swearinger intercepted Worley with a diving catch on 2nd-and-goal from the South Carolina 5.
The Vols appeared certain to take the lead two plays before Swearinger’s interception when cornerback Prentiss Waggner was running in the open field after intercepting Shaw. But Waggner’s 54-yard return came up two yards shy of the goal line, and Tauren Poole (18 carries, 38 yards) lost three yards on the Vols’ first-down run.
Shaw helped give South Carolina a 7-3 lead when he completed a 4th-and-1 play-action rollout pass to freshman Rory Anderson for a 23-yard TD with 7:43 left in the first half.
Worley was 9 of 20 for 99 yards in the first half. He should’ve been 10 of 20 for 142 yards with a touchdown pass at intermission, but Da’Rick Rogers let a 43-yard TD pass go through his hands on 3rd-and-inches with five minutes left in the half.
Worley failed to sneak for a first down on the ensuing play.
“Justin — he had a tough day out there. … He made a couple of nice throws. … We didn’t help him; we didn’t run the ball,” Dooley said.
Tennessee opened the scoring on Michael Palardy’s 22-yard field goal with 11:03 left in the first quarter. It was set up when USC’s Ace Sanders fumbled a punt and the Vols’ John Propst recovered at the USC 18.
The Vols’ last gasp came when A.J. Johnson recovered a Wilds fumble at the South Carolina 27 with 12:27 left in the game. Tennessee tried to make it a one-score game on the ensuing play, but Stephon Gilmore intercepted fellow Rock Hill, S.C., product Worley in the end zone for a touchback.
Worley, who was 10 of 26 for 105 yards and two interceptions, was replaced by Matt Simms after that.
Tennessee hosts Middle Tennessee State (FSN) on Saturday at 7 p.m. South Carolina visits Arkansas (7:15 p.m., ESPN2).