KNOXVILLE — The unquestioned low point of Tennessee's 41-20 win over South Carolina on Saturday night occurred at the 6:16 mark of the second quarter, when Volunteers fifth-year senior receiver Bru McCoy suffered a gruesome lower-body injury during a 17-yard catch.
"I hate what happened to Bru," Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. "We'll have more of an update tomorrow or on Monday, but everybody saw it was a lower-body injury that didn't look good. There is nobody better than him.
"He's a great teammate and a great leader. He's as tough as they come and works extremely hard to be his best, and I just hate it for him."
McCoy, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound former five-star signee who began his career at Southern California, had two catches for 22 yards against the Gamecocks. Since his Tennessee career began last season, he has compiled 69 catches for 885 yards and five touchdowns.
His injury was not replayed on Tennessee's video board.
"I truly did not want to go back out there anymore, just because I know how hard he works," Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III said. "I'm at a loss for words, pretty much."
The Vols were leading 17-10 when McCoy went down and wound up punting on their next two possessions, but they would regroup offensively and finish the evening with a robust 477 yards — 239 through the air and 238 on the ground.
"That's a tough moment when you know one of your brothers has had a tough injury and having to get carted off like that," Heupel said. "Being able to get control of your emotions at the back end of it and being able to reset — Bru said he wanted those guys to play their you know what off, so I relayed that message, but it does show a maturity."
Heupel was asked who will be counted on in McCoy's absence.
"Kaleb Webb is going to have to play at a high level," he said. "We've got to get Chas Nimrod going, too, and Nathan Leacock. We've got a bunch of guys who have to fill the roles, and that's the nature of this game.
"It inevitably happens. It's next man up, and they've got to be ready for their opportunity."
After getting torched for 606 yards in last November's 63-38 loss at South Carolina, the Vols yielded 333 yards Saturday, with 32 of those coming off a Kai Kroeger fake punt early in the second quarter. Mario Anderson reeled off a 75-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, but the 26 other carries by the Gamecocks went for 57 yards.
"Our D-line did a great job against the run," Heupel said. "We harassed the quarterback all night long. He was throwing out of a well. He was on the move, and we did a good job maxing out on the perimeter defensively, too."
Safeties Wesley Walker and Jaylen McCollough and linebacker Elijah Herring paced Tennessee with five tackles apiece, while sophomore edge rusher James Pearce had two sacks for 14 yards.
"I didn't see his stats, but every time I looked up, I felt like he was affecting the way their quarterback was playing in the pocket," Heupel said. "He was just relentless and playing with length. He fundamentally continues to get better, and he has grown as a person outside of the game, too.
"He's playing really well right now, and his best football is still a long ways out in front of him, which is a real compliment to him, because he's playing really well right now."
The Vols had eight tackles for loss, including six sacks.
"We knew we had to come out there and dominate," Pearce said. "The coaches preached that we had to take over up front offensively and defensively."
Said Herring: "This just makes you want to keep going."
Mays makes debut
Senior center Cooper Mays made his first start of the season.
The 6-3, 305-pounder from Knoxville Catholic has been out since the early stages of preseason camp after undergoing a minor procedure. ESPN reported Saturday that the procedure was for his hernia.
Sixth-year senior Ollie Lane had started in his absence but became the starting left guard against the Gamecocks due to Andrej Karic being unavailable. Also starting Saturday were John Campbell Jr. at left tackle, Javontez Spraggins at right guard and Gerald Mincey at right tackle, with Mincey replacing Jeremiah Crawford.
"We're just banged-up up front right now a little bit," Heupel said. "Some unique things transpired during the course of the week, and we had a couple of guys who weren't available. Coop being back this week was absolutely critical for us to be our best, and Ollie did a good job sliding out to the left and with Gerald back at right.
"We were efficient. We weren't perfect, but our running backs ran hard and we pushed the piles, and Coop's experience and athleticism and his ability to communicate at a really high level were all positives for us."
Odds and ends
Tennessee's inactive players Saturday were Karic, receiver Dont'e Thornton, linebacker Keenan Pili and defensive back Christian Charles. ... Former quarterback Hendon Hooker was introduced after Tennessee's first touchdown and received a rousing ovation. ... Sophomore receiver Squirrel White was targeted nine times and had nine catches for 104 yards.
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].