How the East Was Lost: Tennessee 31, South Carolina 13

Take nothing away from what Florida has done in winning its second straight SEC East title. Winning back-to-back crowns in any sport is an accomplishment that should be applauded. But Florida was helped immensely this year in that its two most prominently mentioned foils, Georgia and South Carolina, were fatally flawed. Both teams reminded us of that Saturday, beginning with Georgia's loss to Florida, a turnover-fest that showed again why Georgia fans are calling for Willie Martinez to be fired. The loss by South Carolina in Knoxville later that evening clinched the East for the Gators.

That game was also a microcosm of things that have gone wrong for South Carolina. They fumbled the ball three times early, all turnovers that led to touchdowns, adding to 11 fumbles in their first seven games. Unlike previous opponents, the Vols were able to grab the ball. Two promising drives at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter resulted in FGs, continuing the Gamecocks' inability to turn yardage into points. The running defense could not stop Tennessee's backs, who gained 193 yards on the night.

Jonathan Crompton's renaissance didn't continue apace, but it didn't entirely halt. He completed exactly half his paces (12-of-24) for 138 yards and 2 TDs. But he also avoided making a major mistake, which is pretty much all Tennessee is looking for him to do at this point.

South Carolina's job now is to avoid the second-half collapse that has been their undoing the last three years. Two of their last three games -- at Arkansas, vs. Florida and vs. Clemson -- are winnable. Eight wins is something the Gamecock faithful could hardly scoff at; seven would be just another season under Steve Spurrier.

Tennessee can also start thinking about an eight win season, which seemed almost impossible a month ago. Before tonight, the only remaining games that looked particularly challenging were the trips to Oxford and Lexington, but both of their future hosts looked unimpressive in losses Saturday. Take no more away from Vols for their victory than you do from the Gators for theirs; despite the flaws in their opponent Saturday, Tennessee looked very much like a team moving in the right direction.

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