COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tennessee was two plays into what had the makings of a glorious goal-line stand when South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw scored with ridiculous ease on third down.
Two good plays, one disastrous one: the sequence twice proved crucial in UT's 38-35 loss to 17th-ranked South Carolina on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
In the final minute of the first half, the Vols twice stopped running back Kenny Myles for no gain from their 1-yard line.
But on third down, Shaw circled left end for the touchdown with no Vols within 3 yards of him as South Carolina took a 14-point lead with 14 seconds left in the half.
Another first-half series inside the Vols' 10-yard line was even more telling as they dropped to 3-5 overall and 0-5 in the SEC.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore couldn't make an inch on first down from the UT 8. Next, the Gamecocks were flagged for a false start. Then, the Vols sacked Shaw for a 13-yard loss.
The series turned topsy-turvy on the next play, a 26-yard pass from Shaw to tight end Rory Anderson in the midst of three UT defenders who were just close enough for identification purposes on the JumboTron replay.
"We just took what the defense gave us," said Shaw in explaining his team's offensive success, most of which came via passing. "They were playing in a zone, and we were able to hit some spots."
More specifically, they were able to hit some tight ends.
Tight end Justice Cunningham had six catches for 108 yards. Anderson had three receptions for 58 yards.
"It was a game in which we had to throw the ball," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "And Connor threw the ball beautifully."
That's not a new development against Tennessee's defense, which is allowing 271.9 yards passing per game.
Shaw completed 22 of 32 passes for a career-high 356 yards and three touchdowns.
His performance fell neatly in line with the play of opposing quarterbacks the past two Saturdays against UT.
The previous week, Alabama's AJ McCarron completed 17 of 22 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns. The week before that, Mississippi State's Tyler Russell was 23-for-37 for 291 yards and two touchdowns. Both had career highs in passing yardage.
Given UT's problems defending the pass, it's not surprising Spurrier envisioned even more yards.
"We just barely missed about three long ones — two to Ace (Sanders), and Damiere (Byrd) had it in his hands and couldn't hold on, or we would have had well over 500 yards passing."
Not every pass went South Carolina's way. Herman Lathers ended one fourth-quarter drive with a fourth-down interception at the Vols' 30.
The interception capped a great game for UT's senior linebacker. In addition to the interception, he had a game-high 15 tackles, including a sack and two tackles for loss.
The individual stats didn't make Lathers feel any better.
"It's the same old storyline," he said. "We didn't get the win.
"But we battled and played hard enough to get the win."