The Daily Gamecock

Revenge: Gamecocks rematch Tennessee after last year's season-defining loss

Connor Shaw hobbled off the field, aided by a pair of crutches and the South Carolina medical staff. 

You could hear "Rocky Top" in the background well into head coach Steve Spurrier's post-game press conference. 

And the Neyland Stadium  scoreboard was still lit up, 23-21, in Tennessee's favor. 

That was the scene when the Gamecocks, No. 9 in the nation at the time, last played the Volunteers. And that loss would eventually cost South Carolina a spot in the SEC Championship game.

With a .500 record eight games into the season, the Gamecocks (4-4, 2-4 SEC) won't be playing for a conference title this year regardless of the result against Tennessee (3-5, 0-4 SEC). But South Carolina still has a few incentives left to play for.

"We're looking for revenge this week," redshirt sophomore Gerald Dixon said. 

The Gamecocks and the Volunteers are both teams that have fallen short of their respective expectations this year. South Carolina was supposed to capitalize on an inexperienced SEC East and strut into the conference title game relatively unharmed. Tennessee was touted as a vastly improved unit in head coach Butch Jones' second year at the helm, but the Vols haven't managed to win a single SEC game yet.

Neither of the two have crossed the six-win threshold that would qualify them for a bowl game, and the clock is ticking with just four games left apiece.

"We thought we were going to be pretty good," South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said. "We had a false sense of what was going to happen, I guess. But we're trying to get bowl eligible, and that's a realistic goal."

However realistic, South Carolina's chances at a spot in the postseason are far from a given.

At 4-4, the Gamecocks still need to win two of their last four games to become bowl eligible. This weekend at home against Tennessee would be a good place to start, with games at Florida and Clemson still left to play.

A bowl game is an even loftier expectation for the Volunteers. Tennessee will be playing, for all intents and purposes, with its back against the wall Saturday. The Vols' situation dictates they have to win three of their last four against South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. 

But as the Gamecocks fight for their bowl-season lives against a Tennessee team doing the same, they'll have a totally different mindset than they did in last week's loss at Auburn. 

Entering that game, Spurrier knew he'd need every trick in the book to compete with the top-five team on the other side of the field. And he used every last one.

South Carolina attempted six fourth-down conversations, recovered an onside kick and made a mockery of just about every convention that's been established since Rutgers and Princeton played the first college football game in 1869.

Tennessee is certainly not Auburn, and Spurrier said he plans to cut down on the tomfoolery this weekend.

"That was just what we thought we had to try to do to win the game last week," he said. "That was the plan last week. That's not the plan this week."

As South Carolina proved again in Jordan-Hare Stadium a week ago, the Gamecocks don't fare well when the score is close at the end. In the team's three losses following the Texas A&M debacle, South Carolina has yet to lose by more than one score. 

Last year's two-point loss at Tennessee in which the Gamecocks sacrificed a fourth-quarter lead served as a sort of omen for things to come this season.

In the current state of the program, South Carolina has no reason to expect a blowout victory against the Volunteers.

And the Gamecocks could be in for another test of their fortitude come the fourth quarter Saturday night.

"You try to learn from it and you try not to repeat the same mistakes that occurred in the last game," Spurrier said. "Hopefully we can move on ... and try to have a go at Tennessee here Saturday night."