KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If you think Steve Spurrier has mellowed in his old age, think again.
Moments after suffering a 23-21 upset loss to Tennessee, South Carolina’s head coach dropped a couple of bombs:
Leading 21-20 with just under three minutes left, Spurrier planned to “go for it” on fourth and two at his own 26-yard line.
After seeing Tennessee’s defense, he called timeout. He still planned to go for it when play resumed but the Vols came out in a different defense. Spurrier then took his final timeout and sent in the punt team.
This was the percentage move, of course, and it should have worked. The punt gave Tennessee the ball at its 35-yard line with 2:48 remaining. But Justin Worley completed a 39-yard bomb to freshman Marquez North on third-and-10, extending a drive that concluded with a game-winning 19-yard field goal by Michael Palardy on the final play.
Responding to a question about the two timeouts on fourth-and-two at his 26-yard line, Spurrier replied:
“We were thinking about going for it. We were going up there, and if it (defense) looked good we were thinking about going for it. The second time (after the first timeout) they actually changed their defense a little bit. We thought we had a little bit of a hole there (against the initial defense) but we had a different play called (against the second defense).”
Given the outcome, Spurrier openly second-guessed his decision to punt the ball away on fourth-and-two.
“Looking back, I always tell myself to go for those,” he said. “But you always look stupid if you leave ‘em (opponent) on the 30-yard line. Our defense was playing well. It went to third-and-10 there, and they hung a jump ball on us and their kid (North) made a heck of a catch.
“In hindsight, we should’ve gone for it. But we had ‘em third-and-10. That was a big play, obviously.”
Spurrier had beaten the Vols three years in a row and was favored by a touchdown on Saturday.
“Give Tennessee credit; I think they outplayed us,” the Head Ball Coach said. “We were within a play or two of winning but we didn’t do it.”
Noting that his team “didn’t play well offensively at all,” Spurrier added: “Tennessee had a good plan, and their defense played very well.”
Noting that Carolina was flagged nine times for 84 yards, Spurrier said his team “had a lot of careless penalties today, and in a close game they come back to haunt you.”
First-team quarterback Connor Shaw completed just 7 of 21 passes for 161 yards before leaving with what Spurrier called “a sprained knee” in the fourth quarter. The coach was clearly upset with those numbers.
“We only attempted 22 passes (counting one by backup Dylan Thompson),” Spurrier grumbled. “We dang sure called a lot more than 22. I don’t know if the pressure got him — he had some good run-outs — but other times it looked we got some guys open and he got pressure, I guess.”
Tennessee recorded four sacks and forced Shaw to scramble several more times. The senior QB finished with 78 rushing yards on 19 carries. SEC rushing leader Mike Davis picked up 137 yards on 21 carries but earned only faint praise from his coach.
“We ran a lot,” Spurrier said. “We had some good runs here and there and then we had nothing runs. We didn’t have consistent four-, five- and six-yard runs, especially late in the game there, where a first down or two would’ve done it.”
Spurrier wasn’t happy with his special teams play, either. Noting several penalties on kick returns, he added: “It’s sad that we can’t teach ‘em to play by the rules, but we can’t do it. Maybe that’s one big reason we got beat today.”
Spurrier wasn’t happy with the officiating, either. He hinted that his team was shorted two fumble recoveries.
“We came out of the pile with two of those fumbles that we didn’t get,” he said. “Usually the guy that comes out of the pile gets it. I guess whoever falls on it first gets it now.”