KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- - Hendon Hooker threw for 225 yards and three touchdowns and ran for one to lead Tennessee to a 45-20 Southeastern Conference victory over South Carolina Saturday.
The Volunteers (4-2, 2-1) led 35-0 in the second quarter before the Gamecocks (3-3, 0-3) staged a recovery. After last week's 62-24 win over Missouri it made the first time Tennessee has scored more than 40 points in back-to-back SEC games since 2016.
Vols' running back Tiyon Evans rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown before leaving midway through the third quarter with an injury.
"In the first half, we played well in all three phases of the game," said Tennessee coach Josh Heupel. "We learned that you have to be on the right side of the competitive edge for 60 minutes."
"Our guys, certainly, we felt were prepared to play and ready to handle the tempo," said South Carolina coach Shane Beamer. "Obviously we didn't do a great job handling the tempo early in the game and that got us. We settled down as the game went on, but we just dug ourselves too big a hole early in the game. We have to do a better job starting fast."
Hooker improved his record to 3-1 as a starter in a game in which he was the clear-cut starter for the first time this season.
"Hendon continues to grow into complete command of the run game, pass game and taking care of the football," said Heupel. "The players around him have responded in a positive way."
The Gamecocks had a chance to make it 14-7 in the first quarter. On first-and-goal from the 1, Jordan Burch took a pitch from quarterback Luke Doty and tried to toss a pass into the end zone but it was intercepted by Jaylen McCollough.
"We were running the ball well and hindsight is 20/20," said Beamer. "If we continue to run the ball and hammer it in and make it a 14-7 game. But that was a play we practiced all week and Jordan had thrown that ball I think in high school. It's something we worked on all along this week and he made some great throws."
South Carolina: The ability to run the ball on a consistent basis is a challenge the Gamecocks have to navigate in the process of establishing a solid program under first-year head coach Shane Beamer. After gaining 254 yards in the opener, USC hadn't rushed for more than 102 yards in its other four games. Against Tennessee, ranked No. 24 against the run, the Gamecocks gained 153 yards.
Tennessee: A program on the rise under first-year head coach Josh Heupel, Tennessee has proven it can be dominant among the bottom tier of SEC teams. The next step will come next week when Ole Miss, a quality team, comes to town.
When Tennessee's 1998 national championship team ran into rough spots along the way, it turned to captain Al Wilson for his leadership skills. Wilson will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December. Saturday was his on-campus salute. A highlight of the festivities was Wilson leading the team on the Vol Walk, which winds through campus on the way to the stadium. Wilson, who wore No. 27, had his number painted on the 27-yard line on both sides of the field as well as a plaque on the bricks surrounding the stadium.
South Carolina has been playing football for 115 consecutive years. This is the 30th season the Gamecocks have been in the SEC, joining the league with Arkansas. In those 30 years, they have rolled up a record of 99-137-1. Victory No. 100 could come next week against Vanderbilt.
Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter. He has thrown at least two TD passes in Tennessee's last five games. The last Vols' quarterback to do that was Tyler Bray in 2012.
Saturday's Tennessee victory failed to follow the trend that had been popular in the last nine meetings between South Carolina and Tennessee. Since 2012, eight of the last nine games have been decided by six or fewer points. The teams had split those eight tight games.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks may have their best chance to break into the win column in the SEC when they entertain Vanderbilt next Saturday.
Tennessee: Suffice it to say, there will be plenty of action in Neyland Stadium next Saturday night when the Vols host Ole Miss. Those two teams lead Power 5 teams in average plays per minute (2.89).
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