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October 27, 2012COLUMBIA, S.C. --- Al Pacino may have said it best as a professional football coach in the movie "Any Given Sunday:" "Football is a game of inches," Pacino bellowed.
Those inches mounted for Tennessee's defense early in to what seemed a mile-long comeback effort for the Vols' in their 38-35 gut-wrenching loss to South Carolina Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
For Tennessee's offense, they were the ones forcing South Carolina to give way in not only inches, but in chunks of yardage.
But in the most crucial play of the game as the Vols were just 19 yards from taking the lead and likely winning their first SEC game in the last six tries, superstar defensive end Jadeveon Clowney gained an inch on Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson to sack Vol quarterback Tyler Bray and forced a fumble South Carolina would recover, effectively ending the game.
"One mistake and you're behind in the ball game and that's what got us tonight and we've learned week in and week out that we can't mistakes but unfortunately they keeping showing up a little bit," senior receiver Zach Rogers said.
The margin of error for Tennessee's defense has been smaller than an inch throughout the season and it showed up throughout the game. The Tennessee defense again gave up record numbers, giving up career-high passing yards to Connor Shaw as well as career-high receiving yards to Bruce Ellington.
"It's very small," senior linebacker Herman Lathers said of the margin for error on this team. "Guys not being lined up in the right gap, not being aligned inside, outside in man-to-man technique. It hurts a lot and puts a lot of stress on the safeties and they take a lot of heat for it but it's all on us."
South Carolina scored all but one of its five touchdowns on plays of 24 yards or longer. Defensive lineman Daniel McCullers said the small things are what led to all the big plays against the Gamecocks.
"Just losing our technique, not being perfect, not stepping right, safeties stepped the wrong way and then they make a play on us. Overall, we did a good job but we gave up a couple of big plays that gave them a lot of scores. We've just got to continue to work on our technique," McCullers said.
"It's a big key. You have to be perfect. You can't any mistakes technique wise or you'll get big plays like what happened. We're going to continue to work as a defense."
Offensively, the Vols were much more crisp on their way to gaining 472 total yards, the most yielded by South Carolina all season. But, head coach Derek Dooley said they can't get in deep holes like 21-7 early or 35-14 in the fourth quarter.
"It's what it is. But you know, we dig ourselves in a hole and that's part of the problem," Dooley said. "Then we settled in and held them to 10 points in the second half. So when you dig yourselves in holes and make the mistakes, it's hard to overcome."
The Vol offense was close to overcoming a lot Saturday. Just 19 yards, 684 inches from paydirt and that elusive win against a ranked team in Dooley's tenure and the Tennessee players were confident they'd finally catch their break.
"We had a lot of momentum going into that last one and I thought we were going to score, no doubt and I felt we were going to go up and win this ball game and break the streak," Rogers said. "But, unfortunate things happened and it didn't go our way."
Added quarterback Tyler Bray, who riddled the Gamecocks for 368 yards, four touchdowns and one desperation interception, "I thought for sure we were going to score. We had enough plays that we knew we could score. They covered the first one, went to throw it away and Clowney makes a great play."
Unlike Pacino's Sharks in the movie, the script didn't go as Rogers' planned and the Vols head into November still looking for an SEC win for the third straight season.
"Football is a game of inches and those inches matter," offensive lineman Alex Bullard explained. "When we're in crunch time somebody has to make a play and this game Clowney made a play. He's a great player. We blocked him all game and (Richardson) shut him down all game and (Richardson) had a great game against him. But, sometimes things happen."
ROGERS WITH BEST DAY AS VOL
Senior receiver Zach Rogers turned in an incredible performance Saturday, hauling in three touchdown catches, including a remarkable 22-yard touchdown catch keeping one foot in bounds that brought the Vols within 3 of South Carolina in the fourth quarter, 38-35.
"I think what Zach does is he plays fast without the ball and he practices fast without the ball and I Think that develops a lot of trust with Tyler on where he's going to be," Dooley said. "That's what our other kids have got to learn how to do. If you don't play fast without the ball and don't practice fast all the time, you can't get that trust and timing and rhythm down. It's something that receivers learn over time. He's a senior. He's seeing the value of it and he's getting rewarded for it."
The three touchdowns tied a Tennessee record for most receiving touchdowns in a game and gave him five on the year and he now leads the Vols with five touchdown grabs on the year. Rogers finished with 6 catches for 107 yards, as well as the three scores. All three statistics are career highs for him.
"They play a lot of cover one, man free and we knew we had some singled-up match ups out there and we wanted to take advantage of that coming into this one and that's what we were able to do and it paid off for us," Rogers said.
DALLAS WITH CAREER DAY
Vincent Dallas' three catch, 78yard, one touchdown catch day was by far the best day he's had in his young career. Coming into the game, Dallas hadn't caught mor than one pass in a game and his 61-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was the first touchdown catch of his career.
"I mean, it was basically all excitement," Dallas said. "Just doing my details of assignment and going to get the ball.
"I wasn't really worried about him falling down. I was just ready to make a play."