COLUMBIA, S.C. — "The end zone,'' said Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera, "it was right there.
"We were one play away from getting that touchdown.''
Whether it's one mile, one quarter, one possession or one play, the Vols can't seem to get there.
Thus, Saturday ended like UT's other matches with ranked SEC rivals — just another dose of frustration to stomach, both inside and outside the locker room.
Maybe the Vols were just one play from the end zone, but 17th-ranked South Carolina made the play to deny them.
Jadeveon Clowney's sack that forced a Tyler Bray fumble with 1:08 to play essentially preserved a 38-35 victory for the Gamecocks before a crowd of 80,250 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Tennessee fought almost all the way back from a 35-21 second-half deficit, but still suffered its fourth consecutive loss and begins November 0-5 in the SEC for the third consecutive year.
The Vols (3-5, 0-5 SEC) saw Zach Rogers have a career game with three touchdown catches on a day when UT lit up the Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2) for 472 yards.
The rub — predictably — was that South Carolina lit up the Tennessee defense for 510 yards and quarterback Connor Shaw became the latest adversary to pad his stats and fashion a highlight video at UT's expense.
Shaw threw three touchdowns and ran for another.
"Same old song and dance in SEC games,'' said coach Derek Dooley, whose approval rating becomes more precarious by the week.
"That is our identity,'' Dooley said. "Give up a lot of big plays, keep fighting, try to hunker down and win at the end.
"So far that identity has got us 3-5.''
Tennessee never led, found itself in a hole but didn't go down quietly.
Alton Howard's 13-yard TD pass to Rivera on the first play of the fourth quarter cut South Carolina's lead to 35-28.
Then the defense at least held the Gamecocks to a field goal that made it 38-28 with 10 minutes left.
Four plays later, Bray spotted Rogers for a 22-yard touchdown pass and it was 38-35. Plenty of time left.
South Carolina drove into UT territory, but a game that had been turnover-free produced three in the final five minutes.
The first was an interception by Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers at the Vols' 19 that sent Bray and company back on the field.
A 7-yard pass to Rogers converted a fourth down at the South Carolina 35. Then Marlin Lane burst for 16 yards to the 19.
If not the end zone, at least the Vols were in range for Michael Palardy to try a field goal to force overtime.
However, on first down at the 19, Clowney, the pass-rushing terror, finally got to Bray, knocking the ball loose as Bray tried to pass.
Gamecock linebacker Shaq Wilson fell on the football with 1:08 to play.
"Jadaveon Clowney wins the game for us,'' said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, alluding to the Gamecocks' first sack of the day and only the fourth UT has allowed all season.
"Coach (Lorenzo) Ward and I had the same idea about the middle of the fourth quarter, to let him rush from the inside. Sure enough, we put him inside, where that (UT) back had to double on him.
"I thought Tennessee would tell that back to wait on him inside, but he stayed on the outside.''
The Vols still had a pulse, though.
They forced a South Carolina punt, but had to use all three timeouts to stop the clock.
On third down, Shaw appeared to be run out of bounds, but Dooley called his third and final timeout.
"I thought he was out of bounds,'' Dooley said, "but (the official) wound it up (to signal the clock should keep running) and I didn't have time to argue about it.''
Tyler Hull boomed a 51-yard punt, pinning the Vols at their 16 with 36 seconds on the clock.
Bray launched a second-down pass deep for Justin Hunter. South Carolina's Victor Hampton was there too and came up with a tough interception that finally closed the deal.
South Carolina has won three in a row from UT for the first time. However, the Gamecocks' celebration was muted.
Sophomore tailback Marcus Lattimore left the field on a cart in the second quarter after suffering what appeared to be a serious knee injury.
Lattimore had already scored on a 28-yard touchdown run to put South Carolina on top 21-7.
Shaw threw TD passes of 33 yards to Bruce Ellington, 26 yards to Rory Anderson and 24 yards to Ace Sanders. He also scored on a 1-yard keeper.
Bray was 27-of-43 passing for 368 yards. His TD passes to Rogers covered 8, 37 and 22 yards. He also connected with Vincent Dallas for a 61-yard score.
"He played a great game,'' said Dooley, "but had an unfortunate ending to a great game.''
Tennessee's defense was in reverse gear the entire first half, gashed for 296 yards. In the second half, the Vols did better, allowing 214 yards and only 10 points.
"You can tell we're a better team than the last two years,'' Lathers said. "But to the fans and outsiders, they want results and we're not giving 'em results.''
Not the kind of results they want.
"We've had so many games like this,'' said Bray. "It's hard.''
Follow Mike Strange at http://twitter.com/strangemike44