No. 17 South Carolina hosts struggling Tennessee

Steve Spurrier remembers all three South Carolina victories over

Tennessee, even the one in 1992 when he wasn’t the 17th-ranked

Gamecocks’ coach.

He would like to make beating the Vols more routine, starting on

Saturday.

Though the three wins South Carolina does own have all been

special.

In 1992 Spurrier’s Florida Gators had to have outside help to

win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division and the Gamecocks,

in their first season as SEC members, obliged with a stunning 24-23

victory over the 16th-ranked Vols.

”That was a memorable day,” Spurrier recalled. ”That was a

day that Florida beat Georgia, and we needed somebody to beat

Tennessee to win the Eastern Division, which happened that

year.”

Spurrier was the Gamecocks coach for their only two series wins

since then, each memorable in their own right. South Carolina won

at Tennessee in 2005, Spurrier’s debut season, for the first time

ever. Then two years ago, the Gamecocks dominated the Vols 27-6 and

the school announced shortly after that longtime coach Phil Fulmer

would not return.

Spurrier and the Gamecocks host the struggling Vols (2-5, 0-4

SEC) this weekend.

”Tennessee’s a little bit in a down slump, as several teams

are,” Spurrier said. ”But we can’t worry about that.”

South Carolina (5-2, 3-2) has much bigger, Tennessee-type things

on its mind, like reaching the SEC championship game. The Gamecocks

lead the SEC East and are the division’s only two loss team. Things

fall Spurrier’s way this weekend and he’s playing for a spot in the

Georgia Dome the following week against Arkansas.

”We see these things. We just have to keep a level head,” said

Brian Maddox, who had a career-high 146 yards in last week’s 21-7

win at Vanderbilt. ”We know it’s there. We just have to kind of

put it in the back of our minds.”

Spurrier’s done his best to make sure South Carolina keeps its

focus week-to-week the past few games with so-so results. The

Gamecocks held fourth-quarter leads at Auburn and Kentucky before

losing those contests, yet quickly bounced back from both contests

the following game – most notably for South Carolina with its 35-21

upset of No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 9.

The Vanderbilt win last week showed Spurrier his players had

some ability to fight off adversity and achieve. The Gamecocks were

tied 7-all at the half and playing without injured freshman star

Marcus Lattimore in the backfield. Still, they rallied to the

win.

”It was sort of good to be tied at halftime and win the game

last week,” Spurrier said. ”The two we’d lost, heck, we were

leading going into the fourth quarter in both of them. So, we

didn’t finish well a couple of games. We ended up finishing against

Vandy a lot better. That’s probably what we’re going to need to do

if we’re going to be successful down the stretch here.”

Tennessee’s probably not sure what it can do to avoid a

disastrous finish in Derek Dooley’s first year as coach. Starting

quarterback Matt Simms sprained his left knee in a 41-10 loss to

Alabama last week and spent time in a walking boot. The Vols

haven’t had this long an SEC losing streak since 2005 with some

fans worried about – gulp – going 0-8 by the time it’s all

down.

”I’ve seen a sense of disappointment,” Tennessee receiver

Gerald Jones said. ”I’ve seen a couple of heads drop.”

This week, Dooley unbelievably compared Tennessee to German

troops in WWII surprised by the Allies’ D-Day Invasion. The losing

is starting to wear on the first-year coach.

”Here, I get reminded every week this is the first time since

some Stone Age that this happened,” Dooley said. ”It hasn’t

happened a lot here. … This is new. We’re in uncharted

waters.”

So is South Carolina, which has rarely come this close to the

SEC championship.

”All we are is in position right now, which is good. It’s very

good,” Spurrier said. ”Whether or not we can finish, we’re going

to find out.”

Jeffrey Collins of The Associated Press in Columbia, S.C., and

AP Sports Writer Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to

this report.