COLUMBIA -- South Carolina lost the game but might have found its offense.
A 27-24 overtime loss at Tennessee was a crusher to the Gamecocks' SEC championship hopes. But USC showed signs of an offensive awakening following an eight-quarter slumber.
USC (6-3, 3-3 SEC) finished with nearly twice as many first downs as the Volunteers, out-gained them 355-112 in the second half and finished with its most yards (501) against an SEC opponent in three seasons under Steve Spurrier.
But when Ryan Succop's 40-yard field goal attempt went wide right in overtime, it left the Gamecocks looking up at Tennessee and Georgia in the SEC East standings and needing help to reach the conference championship game for the first time in school history.
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"We could've been in very good shape in the Eastern Division. ... I guess mathematically we're not completely out of it, yet," Spurrier said Sunday.
"We'll get over it. We're not the first team to out-play an opponent and still lose. I've done that before and I've probably won some where the opponent out-played us. So you take it with a grain of salt and don't let it knock you down too low."
The Gamecocks' second loss in as many weeks dropped them eight spots in both national polls. USC slipped to No. 23 in The Associated Press' rankings and to No. 25 in the USA Today coaches poll.
USC fell a game behind Georgia and a half-game back of Tennessee with two conference games remaining. The Gamecocks travel to Arkansas this week before playing host to Florida on Nov. 10. After an open week, USC closes the regular season Nov. 24 against Clemson.
"We need to win two of the next three. Hopefully, all of them if we can," Spurrier said. "We need to get back on the winning track here real soon."
The Gamecocks appeared to get their offense back on track after a scoreless first half that extended their dubious streak without a touchdown to eight quarters, the worst stretch in Spurrier's career. Fifth-year quarterback Blake Mitchell came off the bench to bring USC back from a 21-0 halftime deficit.
Mitchell, who replaced Chris Smelley in the second quarter, completed 31 of 45 passes for 290 yards -- the most by a South Carolina quarterback this season -- and led USC to touchdowns on three consecutive series spanning the third and fourth quarters.
But Mitchell had a couple of miscues on the Gamecocks' lone overtime possession, which began with Mitchell dropping a shotgun snap, disrupting the timing on a quick screen play to Cory Boyd that lost 5 yards. After a 7-yard completion to Freddie Brown on second down, Mitchell overthrew Kenny McKinley on a corner route near the goal line.
"Blake threw a lot of good ones. Unfortunately, he had a couple that got away from him there at the end," Spurrier said. "Overtime was a bad series for us. That's when the game was on the line."
Spurrier said he did not want to brag about any offensive players other than fifth-year tailback Cory Boyd and receiver Kenny McKinley. Boyd rushed for a career-high 160 yards on 20 carries, while McKinley tied Zola Davis' school record with 14 receptions for a career-high 151 yards.
Boyd, who declined to speak to the media following the loss to Vanderbilt, broke his silence Saturday and tried to assure teammates and fans the Gamecocks are not sunk.
"I tried to tell the guys in the locker room our goals are still in front of us," Boyd said. "The way the SEC thing is going, anybody can beat somebody and we'll be right back in the race. It's going to be fun to see how things shape out. We're not going to put our heads down."
South Carolina 0 0 14 10 0 -- 24
Tennessee 7 14 0 3 3 -- 27