KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano could sense the approaching pass rush just as the quarterback released the pass on the play that knocked him out of the game and put his team ahead for good.
If nothing else, Guarantano certainly has proved the last month he knows how to take a hit.
Guarantano bounced back from a miserable week and threw two touchdown passes as Tennessee withstood the absence of injured starting quarterback Brian Maurer in a 41-21 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.
“I was just very happy with these guys,” Guarantano said. “I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they win. That’s really the most important thing to me right now.”
Tennessee (3-5, 2-3 SEC) outscored South Carolina 24-0 in the second half to end a three-game skid in this annual series.
The Volunteers threw for a season-high 351 yards as Guarantano and redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout shared the quarterback duties with Maurer unavailable after sustaining concussions each of the last two weeks. Guarantano broke a bone in his left (non-throwing hand) on his go-ahead touchdown pass midway through the third quarter, and he’s expected to undergo surgery on Sunday.
Guarantano had been roasted around town and on social media after his fourth-and-goal fumble in a 35-13 loss to No. 1 Alabama last week was returned 100 yards for a game-clinching touchdown. He already had endured a difficult season even before that turnover. After making 22 career starts, Guarantano was benched in favor of Maurer earlier this month.
“I’ve been really happy,” Guarantano said after the game with tongue firmly in cheek. “Everything’s been going pretty smooth.”
Guarantano apologized to his coaches and teammates about the fumble and vowed to “work my tail off” from this point on. Guarantano said he leaned on his faith and followed the advice of cousins who suggested he smile more.
He responded Saturday by going 11 of 19 for 229 yards with a pair of touchdown passes to Jauan Jennings. Guarantano entered on Tennessee’s third series and remained in the game until his injury.
Guarantano took a big hit from T.J. Brunson while throwing a 19-yard pass in the back of the end zone to Jennings, who gave Tennessee a 28-24 lead by hanging on to the ball even after taking a shot from R.J. Roderick. Earlier in the game, Jennings caught a 48-yard touchdown in which he broke three tackles on his way to the end zone.
“Jauan has passion for the game,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “He has passion for his teammates. He has passion for the University of Tennessee. He shows it every single day.”
Although the hit from Brunson knocked Guarantano out of the game, Tennessee scored again on its next series as Callaway caught Shrout’s first career touchdown pass. Shrout finished 7 of 11 for 122 yards.
Jennings ended up with seven catches for a career-high 174 yards and two touchdowns. Callaway had three catches for 102 yards and scored on a 65-yard punt return.
“We didn’t cover 15 and 1,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said as he referred to Jennings’ and Callaway’s jersey numbers. “We had a hard time matching up on those guys.”
Big plays enabled South Carolina (3-5, 2-4) to grab a 21-17 halftime lead.
South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski, who went 28 of 51 for 319 yards, connected with Shi Smith for a 75-yard touchdown on the game’s first snap. Late in the second quarter, Bryan Edwards reached his right arm overhead and made a spectacular one-handed, 18-yard catch on the right sideline to set up a Tavien Feaster 1-yard touchdown run.
But it was all Tennessee the rest of the way.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks simply couldn’t cover Jennings and Callaway. Their offense also fell apart after halftime. South Carolina now can only lose once more the rest of the season to become bowl eligible with Vanderbilt, No. 21 Appalachian State, Texas A&M and No. 4 Clemson left on the schedule.
Tennessee: The Vols boosted their bowl hopes because their best players delivered big-time performances. Jennings and Callaway are Tennessee’s top two playmakers on offense, and both came up huge. Darrell Taylor had two sacks and broke up a fourth-down pass before getting hurt early in the fourth quarter. Daniel Bituli had 15 stops and blocked a punt and pounced on the ball in the end zone for Tennessee’s final touchdown.
Jennings, a former high school quarterback, took the first snap for Tennessee as the Vols filled in for Maurer. Shrout then took over for most of the first two series with occasional Wildcat help from Jennings before Guarantano entered. After Guarantano got hurt, Shrout took over.
Jennings was the first Tennessee player to have two touchdowns and at least 150 yards receiving in a game since Justin Hunter did it against Troy in 2012. … Edwards became South Carolina’s career leader in receptions with 211. Kenny McKinley had 207 catches for the Gamecocks from 2005-08.
South Carolina hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Tennessee hosts UAB on Saturday.