ORANGE CRUSH // FIVE POINTS: at Tennessee

1. Jekyll and Hyde both show up. Want to see the Gamecocks' season in a microcosm? Just watch a tape of the Tennessee game. First, it was Hyde, as the offense continued its disappearing act and the defense allowed drives of two yards -- that one wasn't their fault -- 44 and 72. Then, it was Jekyll, as South Carolina reeled off 24 unanswered points. Then, it was Hyde again, as two Tennessee fieldgoals and one miss by Ryan Succop -- ask me before the game who loses it, and he would be one of the last on the list -- sealed the Gamecocks' fate.

For a while, it looked like South Carolina might get crushed. Then, it looked like their best game of the year. Then, it was what always happens against Tennessee -- a close game, with every reason to believe the Gamecocks will pull it out, before fans get their heart broken again.

USC's only other overtime game was a 23-20 loss at Tennessee in 2003.

"We just played good enough to get our butt beat," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "That's all."

Again.

2. Oh Captain, my Captain. That said, there were some stellar performance, perhaps the biggest one coming from Captain Munnerlyn, who had 11 tackles, two for losses, an interception and a broken up pass. In a year where defensive players have shown up to save the day after J-Brink's injury, Munnerlyn did his best to be that guy Saturday night. He just couldn't do it without some more help from his teammates.


Nothing for him to be ashamed of.

Cory Boyd ran for 167 yards and a score after Spurrier discovered that you can also run the ball in college football. Kenny McKinley finally came up big in a significant game, catching 14 balls for 151 yards. Both he and Boyd had a touchdown.

But it wasn't enough. Again, show me those numbers before the game, and I go away whistling, confident that the Gamecocks had taken control of the SEC East.

3. The turning point. Is it really that hard to stop a kickoff return with the game on the line? Is it? Is this (Shane) Beamerball?

Granted, there had been a lot of poor tackling in this one. But LaMarcus Coker should have been stopped more than once on the final kickoff return. No, you can't blame the loss on the special teams, but the screw up in what the players had to know was the most important play of the game -- stop Coker quickly and Tennessee faces incredibly long odds -- was inexcusable.

The defense is also culpable after forcing a fumble on the final drive in regulation, then allowing Tennessee to recover -- for a gain.

Then, of course, there was the bumbling on offense in overtime, which ended in the missed fieldgoal following a two-yard drive. No, you're not misreading that. Three plays, two yards.

The special teams allowed Tennessee to get the spark it needed to come back from the dead. But somebody should have been there to pick them up. No one was.

4. The drought finally ends. A combination of factors brought the TD-less streak to the end in this game.

The play-calling wasn't good in the first half, but I thought it was great for most of the second half. The run and the pass were mixed with skill. Boyd and McKinley both got involved. Though the game ended with South Carolina having attempted 50 passes (!), it also wrapped up with Boyd and Davis running 32. The biggest mistake after the break, in my mind, was in overtime, when Spurrier went for the home run on third down instead of trying to just get the ball either across the first-down line or in the middle of the field for Succop's kick.

Whether Blake Mitchell should remain at quarterback depends on what you're trying to do. If you still want to try to win eight or nine games this year, Blake is the best option. If you're trying to gear up for a big season next year, keep Smelley in. But Blake was good in this one, with just one Blakecision on the late interception. Otherwise, he was 31-of-45 for 290 yards and a score.

5. Races and rankings. So how badly did the loss hurt USC's hopes in the SEC East?


Just a flesh wound.

If you're reading Ron Morris -- and it's an unfortunate necessity for Gamecock fans to do so -- it's over.

A week ago, the Gamecocks missed a chance to take hold of the division lead and fell to Vanderbilt. On Saturday, they could point to any number of missed opportunities to defeat Tennessee. ...

Then Succop’s tying field goal attempt sailed right and with it went all of USC’s championship aspirations.

Scoppe is a bit less definitive, though he's writing a story instead of a column.

The victory keeps the Volunteers (5-3, 3-2 SEC) alive in the race for the Southeastern Conference title, while the Gamecocks (6-3, 3-3) suffered a severe, although not fatal, blow.

Georgia (6-2, 4-2) leads the East, with the Volunteers -- who beat Georgia earlier -- the only other team with two losses in the division. USC and Florida are tied at 3-3.

Both views are valid. The Gamecocks are, to borrow another phrase from Monty Python, "not dead yet." But they need to win out and have someone knock off Georgia and two SEC teams knock off Tennessee.

In other words, it's a long shot.

Again, South Carolina can win out. Arkansas is in a tailspin, Florida no longer looks invincible and Clemson is inconsistent. But it probably won't matter -- except that it could mean the difference between playing the final game of the season in late 2007 or on the first day of 2008.

Rankings, which are really almost insignificant now, go thusly: 23rd by the writers, 25th by the coaches. I'm not even going to Harris, because it's part of the BCS formula, which is the last thing South Carolina should be owrried about right now.

OVERALL GRADE: C. From a performance standpoint, it was about as good as a loss could be. But it was still a loss.

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