COLUMBIA - Can you hear it, that faintly familiar song?
Its strains are far from sweet, like nails against a chalkboard - or nails driven into a heart muscle.
It's been about a year since the tune has drifted through these parts.
It's the sound of South Carolina's final four games getting off to a thud.
The Gamecocks' 43-29 loss to No. 11 Tennessee on Saturday provided the opening notes before an announced crowd of 81,400 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"It does sound like the same song, don't it?" said South Carolina offensive tackle Na'Shan Goddard. "It's getting old. It's getting devastating."
How the rest of the song goes will be determined against Arkansas, Florida and Clemson.
One win, and the Gamecocks (5-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) are bowl eligible.
Three losses, and they'll be home for the holidays for the third consecutive year - with an 0-12 record in their final four games during that stretch.
"We're going to definitely try and do something about it," Goddard said. "We've got to overcome that and beat some people."
Saturday the Gamecocks' central problem was their inability to capitalize in the red zone early in the game.
Touchdowns, not field goals, were necessary later, when South Carolina was left chasing the athletic Volunteers all over the field.
What was missing, receiver Troy Williamson said, was a killer instinct.
"You can't always play the comeback game," he said. "You've got to kill them when you've got a way to kill them."
The Gamecocks carried threatening drives inside the Tennessee 20-yard line three times in the first half.
The result: Two field goals.
"We really shot ourselves in the foot in the red zone," South Carolina assistant head coach Skip Holtz said. "You can run up and down the field inside the 20s all you want. If you don't get it in the end zone, it doesn't matter."
Tennessee delivered a kick to the Gamecocks' teeth just before the half.
Facing third-and-18 on their own 24, with 53 seconds left until halftime, the Volunteers called a timeout that wasn't even a consensus choice among the coaching staff.
The next play was a 55-yard strike from freshman Brent Schaeffer to C.J. Fayton.
"I just felt like we needed a spark," said Vols offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, who called for the timeout against head coach Phillip Fulmer's wishes. "It may not have been the right thing to do, but today it turned out to be the right thing to do."
Schaeffer had come into the game to relieve starter Erik Ainge, who was struggling early.
After the long completion, Ainge checked back in, and Tennessee scored two plays later.
Schaeffer then scrambled for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 8.
"We could have been up 21-0," Goddard said. "We had the momentum. Against Tennessee, you've got to capitalize on those things. It kills us."
The lesson came in the second half, as the Volunteers (7-1, 5-1) scored 35 points after halftime to pull away. That included an opening four-play drive that went 81 yards in less than 2 minutes.
Cedric Houston, who finished with a career-high 190 yards, keyed the drive with a 54-yard run.
Reach Travis Haney at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com.
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