COLUMBIA, S.C. - Jadeveon Clowney had probably the quietest afternoon of the season.
Yet South Carolina's all-star defensive end still made the loudest noise of the day.
The Gamecocks' sophomore strip-sacked Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray as the Volunteers were going in for the winning score with barely more than a minute left, and Victor Hampton's jump-ball interception with 23 seconds left sealed 17th-ranked South Carolina's 38-35 win at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
"That was another tough finish," embattled Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said after his Vols fell to 0-5 in the Southeastern Conference for the third time in his three seasons. "I'm proud of our team for the resiliency they showed. We had a chance to win, and they made a great play.
"We didn't really accomplish what we wanted to against these SEC top teams, but we've got to turn the page, and there's a lot at stake down the stretch."
What's at stake could include his job, though the Vols deserve credit for again showing resiliency despite a week of distractions and an early two-touchdown deficit. South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC) thrice held 14-point leads and led 35-21 late in the third quarter before the Vols (3-5, 0-5) rallied to within 38-35. Though it gave up 510 yards, Tennessee's defense ended Gamecock fourth-quarter drives with a field goal and an interception by linebacker Herman Lathers with 4:46 remaining.
"We knew after Herm caught that pick, we were going to go down there and score and probably win the game or tie it up to go to overtime," receiver Justin Hunter said.
Bray, who threw for 368 yards on 27-of-43 passing with four touchdowns, hit Hunter and Zach Rogers for 20 and 10 yards to put Tennessee in South Carolina territory and found Rogers to convert a fourth-and-1 and the Gamecocks' 42.
After Marlin Lane's 16-yard burst put Tennessee 19 yards away from potentially Dooley's first win against a ranked team, Clowney, limited to two quarterback hurries by a combination of left tackles Antonio "Tiny" Richardson and Dallas Thomas and tight Mychal Rivera, hit Bray's arm as he was throwing.
Dooley's only comments on the play was that ball should have been thrown quicker.
"I think any quarterback feels him," said Bray, who was trying to throw the ball away after his first two reads were covered. "I don't want to say he's a scary dude, but he's a big dude. You always know he's behind you coming, and you don't really see him.
"You can't forget a guy like that. He's an NFL-caliber. Any time he's rushing you, you're going to know he's there."
Richardson, like Clowney a sophomore, left the field limping with a tissue in his bloody nose and was heckled by South Carolina students as he entered the tunnel.
"He has a lot of pride, and he blocked him all game," right guard Alex Bullard said. "He has nothing to hang his head about. When the ball went to the ground, it was like in slow motion.
"Football's a game of inches, and those inches matter. When we're in crunch time, somebody has to make a play. This game, Clowney made a play [after] Tiny shut him down all game."
The Gamecocks had struggled offensively in consecutive losses to Florida and LSU the past two weeks and lost star tailback Marcus Lattimore to a gruesome right leg injury in the second quarter, but coach Steve Spurrier's bunch righted the ship against the SEC's worst defense.
Yet Bray, Hunter, Rogers and Tennessee's offensive line nearly overcame it by rolling up 472 yards and averaging 6.6 yards per play against the nation's No. 9 defense. Bray's two game-ending turnovers upped his total in the Vols' five SEC losses to 11. Though he was again unable to come through with the game for the taking, the junior was his usual causal self in his postgame interview, where he joked about his new buzzed haircut and brought up the Boston Red Sox' long curse.
"When he gives it his all," Hunter said, "he doesn't pout or anything."
Dooley criticized Bray earlier in the week for his turnover-prone play and called his quarterbacks' performance "an unfortunate end to a great game."
"We've had so many games like this, so it's hard," Bray said. "We just needed a win. He sat down and talked to me and said I needed to do some things."
It was the same things -- poor defense, untimely offensive mistakes and costly late turnovers -- that doomed Tennessee to a same fate.
"It's the same old story line," Lathers said. "We didn't get the win, but I thought we played and battled well enough to win. We just didn't pull it out at the end, when you've got to execute."
It's that lack of crunch-time execution that has the Vols winless in the SEC entering November.
"But for Alabama, we felt like we've gone toe-to-toe with all of them, and that's something we never have done in two years," Dooley said. "But that's not good enough in the win-loss column. You don't get a half-win for going toe-to-toe.
"I thought we were going to win it here, but we didn't get it done."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...