Vols, Gamecocks face turning points for '09 season

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee and South Carolina's annual meeting has been a kind of turning point for both teams in recent years.

The Volunteers (4-4, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) are hoping their 31-13 win over the Gamecocks on Saturday means the start of a strong finish to coach Lane Kiffin's first season.

"It was a good win," Vols quarterback Jonathan Crompton said. "We needed that right now to kind of start our streak of what we want to do: to finish out the season undefeated."

And after dropping out of the Top 25 for the first time in a month, the Gamecocks (6-3, 3-3) are hoping to prevent a November losing skid.

Dressed in Halloween-inspired black jerseys with orange pants, Tennessee took advantage of South Carolina mistakes on Saturday and turned three fumbles into touchdowns.

"We hung in there and kept our heads high until the very end and we moved the ball. We just have to get better," said South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, who passed for 300 yards.

The last time the Gamecocks were ranked as high as No. 21 was before the 2007 Tennessee game, when they were ranked No. 15. South Carolina lost that game in overtime 27-24 and dropped its final three games against Arkansas, Florida and Clemson - the same three teams it faces this November.

The Vols used that win over the Gamecocks to overcome a shaky season start and win their last four games and the SEC East title.

Florida has already clinched the East Division championship for this season, thanks to Tennessee's upset of South Carolina, but the Vols are looking to finish with a winning record, grab a bowl bid and avoid the kind of finish they had last season.

A 27-6 loss to the Gamecocks last season was the final strike against coach Phillip Fulmer, who was fired two days later. Tennessee finished with a 5-7 record after losing to Wyoming and missed out on the postseason.

Kiffin said he's encouraged by the improvement his players have shown through the season.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier thinks his players still have some work to do.

"We're 6-3, that's a pretty good record, and we've played some pretty good teams," Spurrier said. "We've got to learn that to beat the good teams we've got to play more efficiently."


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