KNOXVILLE – Most importantly for the Vols, they won the game against South Carolina on Saturday after Michael Palardy’s short field goal sealed the 23-21 victory.
But who won heavyweight battle between UT left tackle Tiny Richardson and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney?
It depends who you ask.
“I just told them if you block me one-on-one, you’re going to pay for it,” said Clowney, a likely top five NFL draft pick next spring. “I kept beating [Richardson] inside. I watched him all week and I know he gives up the inside an awful lot.
“They started telling [the left guard] in the second half to help him start fanning and kept the tight end back there. That made me have to work a lot more than I did the first half.”
Clowney certainly had his moments. He was a regular in UT’s backfield early in the game. The junior was credited with five tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.
But Richardson did prevent the feared defensive end from collecting any sacks. And while Clowney was disruptive at times, he didn’t have any game-altering plays such as the fumble he forced against Tennessee in 2012 that secured the win for the Gamecocks.
“He made his plays,” Richardson said. “Every now and then he made his plays. You all know me – I like to talk. I told him I am going to keep bringing it all day. One-on-one pass protection, I felt like I was pretty much able to shut him down. He made his plays and he’s a great player.”
And while Clowney boasted about his ability to get inside of Richardson, UT”s junior left tackle wasn’t impressed and actually thought that was to Tennessee’s advantage at times.
“They would bring field and boundary pressure and when he would be on the opposite side, when I would expect him to play contained, but he was just shooting inside and basically freelance and sometimes it worked,” Richardson explained. “He was able to make a play and sometimes when he did it, it didn’t work out for him that well, but he kind of did his own thing. We were able to take advantage of that in key situations.”
“[Clowney] is a great player,” coach Butch Jones added. “You know Clowney is going to get his plays. He played exceptionally well. He was disruptive. That is one of those things where he is going to get his plays, snap and clear and just keep playing.”
Five NFL teams had representatives in the press box for the game, but UT officials said many more scouts and NFL executives were in attendance.
Former players return: Jones has made getting former players back on campus a priority. Saturday was a huge example of that.
Over 200 former letter winners were in town for the game. They went through the pre-game Vol Walk with the team and ran through the “T” formed by the band at the beginning of the game.
“Our former players have been outstanding,” said Jones. “That speaks of commitment in the program. We talk about a family and once a Vol, always a Vol. (Vol for Life program director) Antone Davis did a tremendous job. That speaks volumes about our tradition and our togetherness when our former players come back.”
South Carolina safety ejected for targeting: South Carolina safety Kadetrix Marcus was penalized and ejected for targeting, or leading with his head, on a hit against UT receiver Pig Howard in the first quarter.
“I don’t know what to say,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “He hit him with the crown of his head while he was tackling him and if that’s the rule then he’s out. We wish he could have been there and he really didn’t do anything vicious but that is the rule. He tackled him helmet to helmet and they decided to go ahead and call that one. Sometimes they don’t call them, sometimes they do.”
South Carolina’s Shaw, Quarles injured: The unfortunate trend of opposing players getting injured against Tennessee continued on Saturday.
Quarterback Connor Shaw was helped off the field in the fourth quarter with a leg injury. South Carolina’s initial prognosis for Shaw is a sprained knee but more tests will be required.
“Think he sort of got tackled on it and it collapsed under him a little bit,” Spurrier said. “How serious it is, we’ll have to wait an evaluate, but they’re calling it a sprained knee right now.”
South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles was also injured. There was no immediate update on his condition, but he was carted off the field.
. Tennessee wide receiver Josh Smith (hamstring) didn’t play. Receiver/kick returner Devrin Young (hand) played for the first time since Week 2. He got limited work as a receiver, kick returner and punt returner. Defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry (knee) didn’t play.
. Tennessee started Mack Crowder at center and James Stone at left guard. Alex Bullard, the normal starting left guard, sat out the first few series for what appeared to be disciplinary reasons.
. The announced attendance was 95,736.
. Tennessee wore orange jerseys with orange pants together for the first time since 2009. The Vols also wore pink socks and had pink towels to promote breast cancer awareness.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga