KNOXVILLE — Marquez North had himself an efficient Saturday afternoon.
Tennessee's freshman receiver gained 102 yards on three receptions on separate possessions, and the Volunteers turned those drives into 13 points, including the game-winning field goal in the 23-21 upset of 11th-ranked South Carolina at Neyland Stadium.
All three catches were in traffic, and the 39- and 48-yard grabs in the fourth quarter went a long way in the Vols' win.
"He's made those plays since he got here," quarterback Justin Worley said, "and to see him go out there and do it in a game and transfer it from practice against our guys and go out and have some success in games, I think you'll see his confidence continue to grow.
"He stepped up and made some huge plays for us today."
None of them were bigger than the left-handed snag on the Vols' winning drive.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound North, the highest-rated player the Vols signed in February, also drew a pass-interference penalty that kept alive a first-half drive Tennessee finished with a touchdown.
Worley didn't see North come down with the catch on the winning drive after being hit by South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, his fellow Rock Hill, S.C., native.
"He closed his eyes," Clowney said. "I looked at him in the face. It was a great throw and catch."
Tennessee receiver Pig Howard called North's catch "very special."
"The first thing I did," he added, "was ran to him and told him I loved him."
Clowney, South Carolina's all-world defensive star, had been relatively quiet on the field this season, but he made his presence felt in the first half against Tennessee and left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson.
The potential first overall pick in April's NFL draft finished with 2.5 tackles for loss, including one big hit on Vols tailback Rajion Neal that mirrored his hit against a Michigan running back in the Capital One Bowl.
"He brought his A-game today," said Richardson, one of the last celebrating Tennessee players to leave the field, "and I have all respect for him."
Richardson said Clowney surprised him by knifing inside often, which allowed him to make some plays in the Vols' backfield.
"I was expecting him to play contain, but he would just shoot inside and basically freelance," Richardson explained. "Sometimes it worked and he was able to make a play, and sometimes when he did it, it didn't work out for him that well, but he kind of did his own thing. We were able to take advantage of that in key situations."
"He made his plays, but ... I told him I'm going to keep bringing it all day, and one-on-one pass protection, I feel like I was pretty much able to shut him down. I think in key situations, you've got to step up, but he made his plays and he's a great player."
Less than a minute before halftime, Tennessee caught a break when Neal was ruled to have lateraled the ball forward in Worley's direction as Clowney was tackling him for a 5-yard loss.
The Gamecocks recovered the ball and could have cut into the 17-7 deficit before receiving the ball to open the second half.
Vols coach Butch Jones said Neal "didn't say a word" about the odd play, and Neal pretended he didn't know what play was being referenced when asked about it after the game.
Clowney took a different perspective.
"That was a fumble, hands down," he said. "I don't know what the ref was looking at. They made a bad call.
"You never want to leave it in the ref's hand anyway."
Lane strong at end
Neal's 24 carries doubled Lane's dozen attempts, but it was the junior, who missed the Georgia game after leaving the South Alabama win with a foot injury, who got the ball in crunch time.
After North's big catch, Tennessee played for the field goal by giving the ball to Lane, who ran the Vols from South Carolina's 16 to the 2 with a pair of first-down runs.
Neal left the game after he was hit low on a swing pass.
"Having Marlin back was a big spark," Jones said. "I think you saw that. He gained some tough yards for us. Rajion could have been in there, but we knew we needed some tough yards down there, and we feel confident in both of them."
Lane finished with 55 yards, while Neal led the team with 77.
"It shows that they trust me a lot and they have a whole bunch of confidence in me," Lane said. "I'm glad for them to do that. Whenever they call my name, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do whatever I can to get the little inches and help my team to win."
Receiver Devrin Young (hand) returned from a five-game absence and handled some kickoff and punt-return duties. Freshman receiver Josh Smith (illness, hamstring) did not play, and Cody Blanc replaced him in the starting lineup. Mack Crowder started at center as James Stone shifted to left guard, but Alex Bullard returned to the lineup for most of the game.
In addition to quarterback Connor Shaw, South Carolina lost defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles on the final drive.
Tennessee hosted four junior college players on official visits: Feather River (Calif.) College receiver Lavon Pearson and East Mississippi Community College offensive tackle Avery Gennesy, defensive tackle Jarran Reed and defensive end D.J. Pettway.
A 6-foot-2, 180-pounder, Pearson is four-star prospect and the No. 7 juco player in the country, according to 247sports.com, with scholarship offers from Illinois and Utah. The 6-5, 318-pound Gennesy is another 247sports four-star with offers from Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State and others.
The 6-4, 302-pound Reed signed with Florida before taking the junior college route, and he's taken visits to Kentucky and Alabama this season. Pettway was dismissed from Alabama in February after being arrested with three other players under charges of robbery and fraud.
Defensive end Dante Sawyer, a four-star prospect and the No. 10 player in the state of Georgia according to 247sports, headlined the group of unofficial visitors. He's from Suwanee.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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