For Tennessee, the 1992 season was one that left those in Knoxville scratching their heads. In what was head coach Johnny Majors’ final season, the Volunteers went 3-1 against ranked teams, but suffered two inexplicable losses to teams that finished with losing records.
One of those occasions came on this day 30 years ago. A late 2-point conversion ultimately haunted Tennessee on Halloween as the Volunteers fell to South Carolina, 24-23.
Setting the Stage
After 5-0 start, Tennessee had lost consecutive games as it arrived in Williams-Brice Stadium on Oct. 31, 1992. With an extra week to prepare, the Volunteers were ranked No. 15 in the country and looking to get back on track.
South Carolina seemed like the perfect opponent to get back on track against. The Gamecocks had taken the opposite track of Tennessee. After an 0-5 start, South Carolina had won consecutive games over Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
South Carolina Prevails
In a contest that had already had three lead changes, Tennessee took a 17-14 lead to the fourth quarter. On the first snap, the Gamecocks drew even with a 38-yard field goal by Marty Simpson.
The quarter was more than halfway through when South Carolina went ahead for good.
With more than six minutes remaining, Steve Cates hauled in a 3-yard touchdown reception from Steve Taneyhill. It was Taneyhill’s second touchdown pass of the day as the Gamecocks went back in front, 24-17.
Tennessee, however, had an answer. Quarterback Heath Shuler passed for 296 yards in the contest and was one play from putting Tennessee back in front. After his short pass to Mose Phillips went for a 39-yard touchdown with 1:28 left, Majors left Shuler on the field to try to win the game for the Volunteers.
On the 2-point conversion try, Shuler found running back James Stewart in the flat, but South Carolina’s Hank Campbell was able to make the tackle short of the goal line. Tennessee wouldn’t see the ball again.
Despite outgaining the Gamecocks 482-338, Tennessee fell for the third straight game. In addition to the big passing day, Shuler also rushed for a touchdown. Brandon Bennett led the Gamecocks with 122 yards rushing and a touchdown of his own. The Volunteers committed the game’s only two turnovers.
For South Carolina, the upset victory was its third straight. For Tennessee, the loss was its third straight.
From there, however, the teams combined to lose just one game. Tennessee closed the year on a 4-game winning streak with a Hall of Fame Bowl win over Boston College to finish 9-3 and No. 12 in the final polls.
After the 0-5 start, South Carolina won five of its last six with the only loss coming to Florida. During a 5-6 campaign, the Gamecocks knocked off a pair of ranked teams in Columbia. The last came by a single point and on this day three decades ago.
Featured image via YouTube/Jefferson Pilot Sports broadcast