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The Post and Courier (Tennessee)
The Rivalry
The Record

Gamecocks Rock Vols

Tennessee little trouble for bowl eligible USC

Published on 11/02/08
The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — Beating Tennessee at home and sending the Volunteers' coach into unemployment. Those things just seem to go hand-in-hand for South Carolina here, oh, about every decade and a half or so.

It happened to Johnny Majors

in 1992. It very well might happen — and soon — to Phillip Fulmer in 2008.

Things had never been easy for South Carolina in this series.

That is, until Saturday night.

The Gamecocks jumped out to a three-touchdown lead early in the second quarter and coasted in for a 27-6 victory before 81,731 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"It's a hell of a lot more fun than losing," said South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who's worked for four SEC schools since 1990. "I've lost to those guys many times."

And South Carolina again rode Johnson's defense, using Stoney Woodson's 68-yard interception return for a touchdown and Captain Munnerlyn's 38-yard fumble return that set up another score to push away from the woe-ridden Vols.

When the Gamecocks turned that second giveaway into points, with Stephen Garcia's 4-yard touchdown pass to Kenny McKinley, USC led

21-0 with 10:21 to go in the

second quarter.

Strikingly, that was the largest lead South Carolina had held against Tennessee since it entered the SEC.

Actually, come to think of it, 14-0 was. USC's biggest advantage previously against the Vols was eight points in the 2004 game, a 43-29 Gamecocks loss in Columbia.

"Tennessee isn't on their game right now," USC safety Chris Culliver said. "We had to take advantage of that."

South Carolina's defense held the Vols to 34 rushing yards, thanks in part to six sacks, and 207 total yards.

The Vols have now scored fewer than 10 points three times in SEC play.

"I'm gaining a deep appreciation for our defense," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "They were close to perfect."

The Gamecocks should again be close to No. 1 in the country in total defense. They entered the week ranked fourth.

With the lead, USC didn't have to do much on offense (44 rushes, 255 total yards).

"When your defense is playing like this, you try not to mess up and win the ball game," Spurrier said.

The only scar on the night for USC was a third-quarter interception by Garcia that was far more costly than just turning the ball over.

On Eric Berry's return of Garcia's errant toss, Garcia, running back Eric Baker and left guard Lem Jeanpierre were injured, left lying on the ground like wounded on the battlefield.

Garcia, who didn't return, said he hyperextended his right knee. Spurrier said he could have returned, if needed.

Baker (thigh) will be OK, but Jeanpierre is out for the year, Spurrier said, with a knee injury.

The Volunteers (3-6, 1-5 SEC) are now assured they will not end the regular season with a winning record for the second time since 2005, when they went 5-6. And, above that, they're treading on some pretty unholy ground.

Tennessee has lost seven games just once. Ever. In 1977.

And the Vols have lost six conference games just once. Ever. In 1962.

Needless to say, it won't be a comfortable week ahead for Fulmer. Then again, there haven't been any comfortable weeks all year long for the veteran coach.

The writing on the wall just isn't coming off, no matter how much cleaning solution is used.

Meanwhile, the win means South Carolina is bowl eligible, something it's been each of Spurrier's four years here. Now it's a matter of getting a seventh, and possibly eighth, win that would vault the Gamecocks into a better postseason game.

Officials from the Outback and Capital One bowls were among those sitting in the press box Saturday night. USC's players were chirping about New Year's Day games after the win.

The Gamecocks (6-3, 3-3) will likely be favorites in next week's Arkansas game and the regular season finale at Clemson.

Say what you want about UT's problems offensively, but the Vols had done a nice job of protecting the ball in recent weeks. But not Saturday.

When Nick Stephens telegraphed the pass picked off by Woodson, Tennessee had gone 193 plays without turning the ball over.

Stephens hadn't thrown an interception since being handed the starting job a month ago. He'd thrown 106 passes without the other team catching one.

Evidently, that error was enough for the UT coaching staff to turn to outcast Jonathan Crompton for an attempt to bail out the Vols.

But they were just as stagnant as when he started the year at quarterback.

Lennon Creer's fumble on a screen pass was the real tipping point for Tennessee's slide. After a light hit, Creer simply laid the ball on the turf. Munnerlyn scooped it up and followed blockers down to the Vols' 4.

"That big-time defense put it to them," McKinley said. "It might not have been just (Tennessee) playing bad. ... I'm teammates with those (defensive) guys and I'm still amazed by them."

Reach Travis Haney at and check out the South Carolina blog at


The Good

Broken record time: Ellis Johnson's

defense again made the big plays to make this relatively easy win possible..

The Bad

Tennessee, just plain and simple.

This Volunteers team was actually

a little worse then advertised. QB

play was abysmal. Line gave up

six sacks.

The Wacky

Just the simple fact that South

Carolina was walking on Tennessee,

a program it had been chasing

for years.

- Travis Haney

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