By PETE IACOBELLI
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Jake Bentley threw for two touchdowns, Rico Dowdle ran for 127 yards and another score Saturday night, and South Carolina handed No. 18 Tennessee its third straight loss, 24-21.
The Gamecocks (4-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) had struggled on offense much of the season and were expected to be a comfortable bounce-back win for the powerhouse Vols (5-3, 2-3) after consecutive defeats to No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 1 Alabama.
Instead, South Carolina's defense bottled up the Vols most of the game, holding them to 251 yards of offense. Joshua Dobbs threw for only 120 yards and was picked off twice by cornerback Jamarcus King, the final time with 3:50 left in the game and Tennessee needing a dramatic rally.
Tennessee got a final chance with 35 seconds left and drove to the South Carolina 41. But Aaron Medley's desperation, 58 yard field goal attempt was well short on the final play.
First-year coach Will Muschamp improved to 5-0 all-time against Tennessee, the first four victories coming during his time at Florida.
"I'm really proud of our players. I told them after the end of the game just continue to continue to invest, continue to have some belief, continue to have confidence in what we're doing and some good things are going to happen," Muschamp said afterward.
Bentley was again on target in his second college start at quarterback. He threw for 167 yards and completed 15 of 20 passes, including a 17-yard TD throw to Bryan Edwards and a 35-yard scoring toss to K.C. Crosby in the final period to put South Carolina up 24-14.
Tennessee could not dig itself out of that hole and ended a three-game win streak against South Carolina.
Tennessee: The Vols' third straight SEC loss may have been the most devastating of all as they fall two games behind Eastern Division leader Florida with three league games left. Tennessee will have to root for these same Gamecocks in two weeks when they head to The Swamp to face the Gators.
South Carolina: No question this is Muschamp's biggest victory at South Carolina, and suddenly puts the Gamecocks in line for a bowl game with struggling Missouri and FCS opponent Western Carolina ahead in November.
Tennessee steps out of conference to play FCS opponent Tennessee Tech at home next Saturday.
South Carolina closes out five straight games at home against Missouri next Saturday.