COLUMBIA, S.C. -- It was the easiest drive to call for Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, until the very end.
South Carolina (5-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) was down only 12-10 after freshman Daccus Turman's first career touchdown and Williams-Brice Stadium seemed hostile enough to rattle the Vols (5-3, 2-3) into their third-straight loss.
That's when Fulmer called on Cedric Houston to lift Tennessee. Houston gained 61 of his 108 yards on a 17-play drive that led the Vols to their clinching touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
"I knew they were counting on me, calling on me to carry the ball," sophomore Houston said. "I was happy I got to do it."
When the Vols looked ready to settle for a field goal on 4th-and-1 from the Gamecocks' 5, quarterback Casey Clausen talked normally by-the-book Fulmer into going for it.
The result? Clausen's bootleg into the endzone and an 18-10 victory.
And everyone who bleeds Big Orange was happy to see the Vols end a two-game losing streak. But, it wasn't enough to keep Tennessee in The Associated Press Top 25 Poll. The Vols dropped from No. 25 despite the win.
Fulmer said Clausen was a warrior who played solidly despite an ankle injury that caused him to come out late for the second half. The Vols' offensive line and runners also worked through adversity, he said.
"It was more like what Tennessee football has been about," Fulmer said.
In November and against the Gamecocks, Tennessee football has been about winning.
The Vols are 65-3 in November since 1985, losing only to Notre Dame (1990), Memphis (1996) and Arkansas (1999). They have not lost to South Carolina since 1992.
The Gamecocks (5-4, 3-3) have lost two straight for the second time this year.
The win also revived the confidence Tennessee lost with back-to-back losses last month against Georgia and Alabama, Clausen said.
Things had gotten so bad, ex-Tennessee stars like Heath Shuler were openly questioning the team's heart. Then came this week's news that star receiver Kelley Washington was out indefinitely because of a concussion.
"Obviously, things haven't gone our way this year," said Clausen, who was 17-of-23 passing for 175 yards and one touchdown. "Wins, losses, injuries, whatever you want to call it. This was special, important for us to have a big win for guys to feel good about themselves again."
Especially, with No. 2 Miami coming to Knoxville next week.
"This is the best Tennessee has played so far," Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz said.
Clausen connected on a 3-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Fayton in the first quarter set up by Jabari Davis' career-best 62-yard run.
South Carolina got the ball twice more after Clausen's touchdown run, but could do little with it.
Vols cornerback Jabari Greer intercepted South Carolina backup Dondrial Pinkins with 2:05 to go, and Tennessee ran out the clock. Fulmer was high-fiving assistants in the final minutes, glad at last to achieve his 100th career victory.
"It hasn't been easy the last couple of weeks with injuries, and some of our play hasn't been what we want it to be," said Fulmer, who won his 100th game. "Our football team has stuck together in the face of a lot of adversity. We just kept fighting."
Alex Walls added field goals of 24 and 29 yards for Tennessee, which has lost in November only to Notre Dame (1990), Memphis (1996) and Arkansas (1999) in the last 17 years.
South Carolina quarterbacks Corey Jenkins and Pinkins combined to go 5-of-19 passing for 45 yards and three interceptions.
"I don't think it's just one thing," offensive coordinator Skip Holtz said. "Obviously, we have to be able to throw the ball better."
Neither team looked crisp early on. Davis ran into Clausen on the Vols' first offensive play. Clausen scrambled to find Jason Witten to keep one drive alive, then was sacked by Moe Thompson to take Tennessee out of field-goal range.
South Carolina wasn't much better.
The Gamecocks took 14 plays - with help from a fumbled punt by Tennessee's Mark Jones - to get to the Vols' 8 and then settled for a field goal.
South Carolina had only 14 yards passing in the first half.
© 2016. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us