There was more controversy involving Jadeveon Clowney at the end of Saturday’s first half, but not for the off-field reasons that followed South Carolina’s star defensive end during the past month.

With Tennessee deep in its territory and less than a minute left in the first half, Clowney wrapped his arms around Tennessee running back Rajion Neal in the backfield. The ball squirted away from Neal, and it looked like Clowney had forced a fumble that would put the Gamecocks in field-goal range.

Instead, in a rare turn of events, the referee ruled Neal was trying to pitch the football to Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley. Video replay showed Neal intentionally departed from the football, though Worley was not in the area. No intentional grounding was called.

“They said he threw it forward, huh?” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after the game. “I’ve never seen that happen, but I guess he could have because he did sort of fling it. But we came out the pile with two of those fumbles that we didn’t get. Usually, the guy who comes out of the pile gets it, but I guess whoever falls on it first gets it now.”

Several South Carolina defensive players were slow getting off the field after time ran out in the first half. Their frustration boiled over.

Clowney said he wasn’t angry, but he was blunt about his opinion on the play.

“Oh, that was a fumble. Hands down, fumble,” Clowney said. “He wasn’t trying to throw it. I mean, I don’t know what the ref was watching, looking at, but it was a fumble. He made a bad call. ... You never want to leave it in the ref’s hands anyway.

“I told myself, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to keep playing.’ I don’t ever lose my head over a referee making a bad call. Sometimes, they let me get away with some stuff. I’ll line up offsides sometimes, and they’ll come and tell me, ‘Hey, back up.’ Some of them get way with it, some of them don’t.”

Clowney handles Tiny Richardson

One of the most anticipated individual battles of the SEC season was Clowney against Tennessee left tackle Tiny Richardson.

Clowney’s team lost the game, but he won the matchup against his all-SEC counterpart.

Clowney took advantage of the most one-on-one blocking he’d seen this season, finishing with five tackles. Each of his 2.5 tackles for loss came in the first quarter, and he was close to a couple more later in the game.

Entering Saturday, Clowney had only three tackles for loss in five games.

“I just told them, ‘If you’re going to block me one-on-one, you’re going to pay for it,’” Clowney said. “I kept beating him (Richardson) inside. I watched him all week long (on film). I know he gives up the inside an awful lot. They waited until the start of the second half for the guard to start to help him, and they started playing with the tight end back there, which made me have to work a lot more than I did the first half.”

Targeting rule

Without freshman Chaz Elder (concussion), USC was thin on the depth chart at safety entering Saturday. In the first quarter, it lost even more depth.

Junior Kadetrix Marcus was ejected from the game for a targeting penalty on a Tennessee receiver. Afterward, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward defended his player.

Was the hit clean?

“Of course,” Ward said. “I mean, however you teach tackling, but it’s in the view of the officials.”

Ward said the hit was exactly how players are taught to tackle in practice.

“We can’t do anything about the penalty that they threw earlier against JJ,” Ward said, referring to Marcus’ nickname. “I don’t know what you do. I don’t know how (else) you teach tackling.”

Quarles injures knee

Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles ended the game on crutches because of a knee injury.

The severity was unknown after the game.

“The trainers have to tell us what the situation is,” Ward said. “I saw him in the locker room there a second ago. It didn’t look good, but I don’t know.”