The Gamecocks (5-3 overall, 3-3 in Southeastern Conference play) led early and even took an 8-all tie into the locker room, but couldn't overcome second-half mistakes. The loss makes Holtz 0-10 the past three seasons in games when needing a win to qualify for a bowl.
"We're just going to move on here," Holtz said. "Our players, we're very proud of their effort. They played hard. They played well to the very last second."
They now must chase that elusive sixth win again at home Saturday at 11:30 a.m. against Arkansas, a team which has won five of the last six meetings.
Arkansas (3-4, 1-3) needs to win three of its last four games to become bowl eligible for the seventh straight season under coach Houston Nutt. After the Razorbacks, South Carolina has Florida and Clemson remaining on its schedule.
"I know Arkansas always has an open date before they play us and they're always a very solid football team," said Holtz, who coached the Razorbacks from 1977-83. "Arkansas lost a lot of players off of last year's team and they're still playing with an awful lot of juniors and seniors on that team and I'm very impressed with them.
"Impressed with their talent, their athleticism and certainly how hard they play."
Holtz had few complaints about the way the Gamecocks played Saturday, considering they beat the Vols in several key categories including yards (512-412), first downs (30-14) and time of possession (37 minutes, 39 seconds to 22:21).
The difference, according to Holtz, was that Tennessee gained 290 of its 412 total yards on just nine plays, mostly on runs by Cedric Houston when the Vols tailback and Arkansas native was able to "split the safeties."
In the Gamecocks' 4-3-4 base defense, the safety must "feel" off the outside linebacker on running plays. If the linebacker kicks the run to the outside, then the safety comes over the top of the play with the backside safety rotating to the middle of the field to corral the ball carrier.
If the outside linebacker forces the action inside, then the safety will stay inside to try to make the tackle while the backside safety rotates over to protect deep.
On Houston's long runs, Holtz said his safeties weren't sticking to the assignment.
"The safety came up and we were in the gray area between the linebacker and the safety," Holtz said. "And the backside safety, in his anxiety to make a play, doesn't take depth back away and that's what was meant by splitting the safety.
"One rotates up and the other one doesn't rotate back fast enough. Those two have to play like there's a rope on each other."
Offensively, the Gamecocks were as sharp as ever on Saturday other than sputtering on a few series early in the second half.
Quarterback Dondrial Pinkins, playing his first game in almost a month since suffering a slight tear in his rotator cuff, was 30-of-42 for a career-high 306 yards. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound senior threw two touchdowns, but also had a pair of passes intercepted.
"I thought Dondrial played like a true quarterback," Holtz said. "He made a few mistakes and there was one play where he did not play within the system. Other than that, I thought he did an excellent job of reading defense, throwing the ball, checking off, pitching the ball and running the ball.
"I thought he by far played his best and most complete football game here."
Sophomore tailback Demetris Summers (6-1, 200) also was solid despite playing on an injured ankle. He had 10 carries for 95 yards and five receptions for 35 yards.
The Gamecocks introduced the Dead-T formation in its offense -- lining up three running backs in a row side-by-side in the backfield -- in the middle of the field against the Vols. They previously used the formation only in short yardage situations inside the 20.
"We thought we would throw it in occasionally out in the field as well and it went very well," Holtz said. "It was just something we have done in the past and other than a couple of plays there, it served a very useful purpose."
Overall, his team played well enough to win and that's what was the most discouraging to Holtz.
"It was a difficult loss because we played awful hard and awful well except for a few plays and those are the ones you have to play for 60 minutes," Holtz said. "There are four or five plays that determine the outcome of the game and you don't know when they are, but you've got to play each and every one like it might be the one."
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