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Tennessee Scores Breakthrough Win at South Carolina

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There were snarky comments on Twitter — imagine that — when some images were posted late Saturday night of students celebrating on the Tennessee campus.

I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of the tweets poked fun at Volunteer fans for making such a big deal about beating a South Carolina team that hasn’t won an SEC game in six weeks and is now 2–5 in the league.

My take: It was a big deal. A huge deal — and a cause for celebration.

Butch Jones has done a terrific job rebuilding the Tennessee program but has had very few tangible results on the field. Before Saturday’s improbable win in Columbia, Jones had won only two of his first 12 SEC games. Sure, the schedule has been tough, but it’s hard to argue that a team with a 2–10 record in league play is making progress.

Jones needed a breakthrough win. And he got it. Yes, South Carolina is struggling right now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But the Gamecocks, with an 18–6 record in the league from 2011-13, have been one of the elite teams in the SEC in recent seasons. And now Jones and the Vols have recorded wins over Steve Spurrier’s program in consecutive seasons.

Saturday’s win was extra special for two reasons: It came on the road (UT’s first SEC road win against a team other than Vanderbilt or Kentucky since 2007) and it came after the Vols trailed by 14 points with under five minutes to play.

Joshua Dobbs, who was planning to redshirt as recently as nine days ago, threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 166 yards and three scores to lead an offense that rolled up 645 yards. On the final drive in regulation, the Vols went 85 yards on nine plays without a timeout. The defense had it struggles — South Carolina had 625 yards — but flexed its muscles with a dominant series in overtime.

This program is not ready to compete with the elite in the SEC on a consistent basis, but Tennessee took a major step forward on Saturday night.

And it was a cause for celebration.