USC Again Just Short of Victory, 31-24

South Carolina spotted the #8 Tennessee Volunteers an easy touchdown with only 1:39 gone in the game, and then played a terrific game to play even with the Vols the rest of the way, but the early score ended up being the difference as the Gamecocks fell seven points short, 31-24.

South Carolina Head Football Coach Steve Spurrier frequently said the ball bounced the Gamecock's way when referencing his team's success in 2005. He said tonight, "Last year against them, I said I thought we were meant to win. Tonight I don't think we were quite meant to win. The ball certainly didn't bounce our way. We don't have to worry about winning the SEC this season. The pressure is off us completely. We can relax and not worry about being in championships. A ball here and there and we would have had a chance. A lot of guys played with a lot of effort tonight. (The USC players) really played well. The fans were wonderful."

The game was a see-saw battle, with Tennessee scoring 14 points in the first quarter, and the Gamecocks scoring 10 in the second and seven more to take the lead in the third quarter, while holding the Vols scoreless for the two quarters. Breaks seemed to be coming South Carolina's way early in the third quarter, when an apparent fumble recovery by Tennessee deep in Carolina territory was negated by a penalty. Then after UT punter Britton Colquitt pinned South Carolina at their own one yard line, USC was forced to punt, only to recover a Tennessee fumble at the Carolina 27.

The Vols came back in the fourth to break the Cocks backs, first when South Carolina native Jonathan Hefney returned a punt 65 yards to the Gamecock 5, before Arian Foster punched it in for a touchdown. After another USC punt, UT quarterback Erik Ainge completed a 62 yard pass to Robert Meachem. The defense then held, and UT kicked a 21 yard field goal. At that point, there was only 3:27 left on the clock.

UT quarterback Erik Ainge said about the 62 yard pass play: "That was huge. We knew we needed to score. The line gave me time and (Robert) Meachem had a true freshman guarding him."

South Carolina then drove down the field for a quick touchdown score, taking only one minute and three seconds off the clock, the key drive on the play being a 30 yard pass from Newton to Cory Boyd, taking the Gamecocks down to the two yard line, before Newton ran in for the score. USC then attempted an onsides kick that was unsuccessful.

The Gamecock defense held Tennessee one more time, but with only one minute and six seconds and no timeouts to work with, it was not to be for the valiant Gamecock offense.

Spurrier said, "It went the same as the Auburn game went. We're not quite there. Hopefully we will be some day. We had more plays and more yards like we did against Auburn. We have to take care of the ball. We lost a fumble and had two interceptions." A third interception occurred as time ran out on the final play of the game.

Tennessee Head Coach Phillip Fulmer said after the game, "Obviously we are very excited to get this win on the road. Tonight we had a hard time getting Syvelle Newton on the ground. He is a very special player. South Carolina did a good job; you have to give them credit."

The first half was clearly a tale of two quarters. The ball definitely did not bounce the Gamecock's way in the first quarter, as they struggled to overcome two early turnovers in the first seven and half minutes, spotting the Volunteers 14 points. But the Gamecocks came roaring back in the second quarter, scoring 10 points and playing solid on both sides of the ball with two key defensive stops, and headed to the locker-room trailing by only 14-10.

After a 17 yard interception that was returned by Tennessee linebacker Marvin Mitchell for a quick 7, South Carolina drove the ball decisively down the field on 10 plays, all but one of them running plays, only to have Syvelle Newton's second complete pass again be a completion to a Tennessee player, this time in the end zone. Ryan Carl deflected the ball at the line of scrimmage, and Jonathan Wade intercepted the ball, stopping the drive.

On Tennessee's first offensive drive, the Vols drove the ball down inside the ten. After two strong defensive downs, Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge threw the ball into coverage, and the ball bounced the Vols way, as senior receiver Bret Smith came down with it for a touchdown.

As expected, the traditional role reversal of the team's offensive styles continued in the first quarter, with normally run-oriented Tennessee struggling to run the ball, gaining only 4 yards. The Vols threw the ball effectively for 54 yards. Steve Spurrier's offenses have always been perceived as being pass happy, but the Gamecock's ground game was what has become their bread and butter this season, and they ran for 76 net yards in the first quarter, but passed for only 11 yards.

The second quarter immediately began better for the Gamecocks when kicker Ryan Succop stopped the bleeding with a 50 yard field goal with less than a minute gone in the quarter. The USC defense then stepped up and stopped the Vols on what initially appeared to be another strong drive.

South Carolina looked more like what people expect out of a Spurrier offense on the next drive, with Newton completing four out of five passes before hitting Mike West for an 18 yard touchdown.

The USC defense again stopped Ainge and the Vol offense, and then the Gamecocks ran out the last 1:53 on the clock in the first half.

The home crowd of 82,011 was loud and effective, especially when UT had the ball.

Tennessee had 325 yards of offense, 254 of them through the air. USC had 395 total net yards, 165 on the ground and 230 through the air. Cory Boyd was the leading rusher with 60 yards gained on 10 attempts in the first half, but was limited to nine yards on seven rushes in the second half. Newton recovered nicely after the two interceptions, completing 16 out of passes for 230 yards. including the touchdown pass to West. Tennessee is now 7-1 on the season and 3-1 in the SEC. USC is 5-3 on the season and 3-3 in the SEC. USC needs one more win to become bowl eligible.

South Carolina will again be on national television next week, when the Arkansas Razorbacks come to Williams-Brice Stadium for a 7:45 pm SEC match up. It will be USC's final at-home SEC game.

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