Editor's note: This is the seventh story in a series reflecting on the 1998 Tennessee football team that finished 13-0 and won the BCS national championship.
With a 6-0 start to the season and a five-game winning streak against South Carolina in hand, Tennessee rolled into Columbia for a Southeastern Conference game that was flying well under the national radar.
The third-ranked Volunteers were expected to handle their business at Williams-Brice Stadium and cruise past the Gamecocks, who were just 1-6. This was not expected be a day for the history books.
But Tee Martin made it a game to remember.
Tennessee's junior quarterback set an NCAA record in the Vols' 49-14 romp over the Gamecocks in 1998 by completing 23 consecutive passes in the Halloween game.
"Our team had rallied around Tee Martin," Phillip Fulmer later wrote in his 1998 book "A Perfect Season." "They respected him for being patient and working hard, for his skills and poise under pressure. They admired him for his attitude toward life, toward people, toward school and football."
The day was particularly cathartic for the Vols' passing game because of some earlier struggles.
In his first season as starting quarterback after the Peyton Manning era ended, Martin had been inconsistent, completing nine of 26 passes in the season opener against Syracuse. Two weeks later, he was 7-of-20 in a win over Florida.
At South Carolina, he was essentially perfect. Martin finished the day 23-of-24 for 315 yards with four touchdowns. His scoring strikes went to his top three targets: Peerless Price, Jermaine Copeland and Cedrick Wilson.
"They closed ranks around him when he wasn't throwing the ball particularly well earlier in the year," Fulmer wrote. "After the South Carolina game, they rejoiced with their quarterback in whom they had always believed on this record-setting day. And so did I. We had climbed one more rung on the ladder."
Tennessee's defense continued its epic campaign against the Gamecocks. The Vols held South Carolina scoreless until the fourth quarter, when a comeback was out of reach for the hosts and the visitors had put their reserves in action.
With a marquee matchup against the top-10 Arkansas Razorbacks waiting in two weeks, Fulmer felt concern leading up to the South Carolina game. Tennessee also had to play the University of Alabama at Birmingham before facing Arkansas. Nonetheless, Fulmer sensed external attention shifting prematurely toward the game against the Razorbacks.
"In the locker room after the game, I told our players that I had challenged them not to look past South Carolina and to play at their highest level, and they responded like champions," Fulmer wrote. "I let Tee know how proud I was of not only him, but also our receivers and offensive line that helped him complete all those throws in a row. I told our team that they had been practicing and playing like champions and not to forget how they got to be 7-0 — by taking it one day at a time."