COLUMBIA, S.C. — Three years ago an undermanned Tennessee team with a first-year coach knocked 11th-ranked South Carolina out of the SEC championship game with an upset win in Knoxville.
The Gamecocks waited three years to exact their revenge.
The Volunteers likely were knocked out of the SEC East Division race by a miserable performance in a 24-21 loss to South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday night.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones called his first defeat to South Carolina "unacceptable" and lamented the turnovers, lack of explosive plays, missed tackles and penalties that doomed the Vols.
"It starts with myself and it starts with the coaching staff," Jones said. "We talk about being a determined football team. The leadership needs to step up on this football team. It starts with myself, the coaches, but it's everybody, everybody's going to own it. Everybody's responsible for this. We can't let this one loss define who we are."
South Carolina, in its first year under former Florida coach Will Muschamp, had posted its third win of the season last week against Massachusetts, but the Gamecocks made far fewer mistakes than the Vols in pulling the upset.
Tennessee (5-3, 2-3) threatened to rally from a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit, but Josh Dobbs threw an interception on the Vols' penultimate possession and Aaron Medley's 58-yard field-goal try never had a chance and landed in the end zone as time expired to seal an entirely disappointing defeat.
Dobbs completed only 12 of 26 passes for 161 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.
"That's straight up on me, understanding the coverage, understanding the situation and checking the ball down and getting the drive going," Dobbs said of his fourth-quarter pickoff. "I have to step it up. I feel like I didn't play up to my standard, personally. I'm a tough critic on myself. I'll get it corrected and keep us moving."
South Carolina (4-4, 2-4) turned Tennessee's first two turnovers into 14 points.
One play after he was sacked for a 15-yard loss on second-and-2, Dobbs threw a pass into coverage, and Jamarcus King picked it off to set up the Gamecocks with a short field, and Jake Bentley threw a touchdown pass to fellow freshman Bryan Edwards to put the hosts ahead 14-7 in the second quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Vols' John Kelly was on the sideline catching his breath after breaking a 34-yard run, and Dobbs hit freshman Carlin Fils-aime, in the game with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara out, with the ball as he threw. It sailed past the line of scrimmage and Darius English recovered for the Gamecocks at midfield.
Four plays later, Tennessee left K.C. Crosby uncovered, and he hauled in an easy 35-yard score to extend South Carolina's lead to 24-14 with less than 10 minutes to go.
In addition to the turnovers, Tennessee was penalized nine times for 87 yards.
"It's very disappointing," defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said. "For some reason, we didn't show up tonight."
Asked why, Vickers replied: "I don't know what happened."
South Carolina's offense continued the momentum it ignited by starting Bentley last week, and the freshman quarterback completed 15 of 20 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns Saturday night.
The Vols were outgained 325-297 after giving up another slew of big plays on defense.
"We just have to control what we can control," Dobbs said. "Obviously tonight we didn't come out and play to our standard of football, and the results show it. From here on out, we just have to take it one day at a time and focus on what we can control."
Tennessee wasn't in control of its SEC East hopes — the Vols likely needed to win out and have Florida lose once — but now it can all but stop dreaming of playing in Atlanta the first Saturday of December.
"There's no need for panic, and obviously we did not play our best football tonight," Jones said. "We created a lot of self-imposed adversities, and I give South Carolina credit, too. But what do we learn from it? We learned about the value of being ready versus being prepared and having your opportunity to make the most of it.
"This is a game, this is a sport that you have to play inspired. You have to bring passion on every single snap. You can't have lack of focus in details on anything, and the unsettling thing is it's not just one side of the ball. It's all three phases and we have to get it corrected in a hurry."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.