COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina essentially played itself out of the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division race last week by losing at Florida.
And while the 13th-ranked Gamecocks rebounded on Saturday by beating Tennessee, 38-35, to end a two-game losing streak, they suffered a devastating setback to perhaps their most beloved player.
With 4:45 left in the first half, tailback Marcus Lattimore was carted off the field after sustaining what appeared to be a serious right knee injury.
Cornerback Eric Gordon hit Lattimore from his left at the end of a two-yard run, and Lattimore's leg bent awkwardly. As he left the field on a cart, both teams walked onto the field to encircle him.
Lattimore was taken to the hospital for further evaluation.
"Obviously, Marcus has a severe knee injury," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "We'll let the doctors tell you exactly what all it is later on.
"He's such a good young man. Good things are going to happen for Marcus. I don't know exactly where or how, but good things are going to happen for Marcus Lattimore."
Now, as the Gamecocks try to close the season strong and equal last year's 11-2 record by winning out, they almost certainly will have to do it without Lattimore.
"That might have been his last snap," said South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders, reflecting on the injury's severity.
Tennessee burst out of the locker room at halftime, scoring touchdowns on three of its first four drives, with possessions that covered 80, 69 and 67 yards.
The latter came on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Bray to wide receiver Zach Rogers, who made his third touchdown catch of the day and cut South Carolina's lead to 38-35 with 8:35 left in the game.
South Carolina managed a touchdown and a field goal on its first four second half drives. The Gamecocks got four touchdowns on six first half possessions.
Immediately after Rogers' third touchdown, Connor Shaw had wide receiver Ace Sanders open and led him with a pass on third down from Tennessee's 30-yard line.
But it sailed a bit too long, and grazed off Sanders' hands in the end zone. Shaw threw an interception on the next play, and Tennessee took over at its 19 with 4:46 left.
Tennessee drove to South Carolina's 19-yard-line and had first down and 10, needing only a field goal to tie the game. Bray dropped back to pass, but defensive end Jadeveon Clowney beat left tackle Antonio Richardson and knocked the ball away from Bray.
South Carolina recovered with 1:08 left and Clowney pounded his chest in celebration. The Volunteers got the ball back with 36 seconds left in the game, but the drive ended with an interception on the second play.
"They were just making plays when it counted," Tennessee wide receiver Vincent Dallas said.
South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 in the Southeastern Conference) is off next week, then hosts Arkansas on Nov. 10 in its SEC finale, as the Gamecocks try to go undefeated at home for the first time since 1987. They also host Wofford on Nov. 17.
Tennessee (3-5, 0-5) hosts Troy next week.
Tennessee is guaranteed of having a losing SEC record for the third straight year, which hasn't happened since 1962-64, when the Volunteers had three coaches in three years and went 2-6, 3-5 and 1-5-1.
"We gave up a lot of big points," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "It's the same old song and dance in the SEC games."
Before being hurt, Lattimore had 11 carries for 65 yards, and a 28-yard touchdown that put South Carolina up, 21-7, with 8:22 left in the first half.
South Carolina led, 21-14, when he left the game. Kenny Miles and Mike Davis replaced him. Last season, Lattimore sustained a season-ending left knee injury, in the seventh game, at Mississippi State.
Largely because of poor run blocking, Lattimore was a non-factor in the previous two games. He ran 13 times for 35 yards at LSU and three times for 13 yards at Florida.
But South Carolina's offense came alive in the first half against Tennessee. The Gamecocks gained 296 yards in the first half and got touchdown passes of 28 and 33 yards from Shaw.
Tennessee would not go quietly into halftime and got a 37-yard touchdown pass from Bray to Rogers with 5:21 left to cut South Carolina's lead to 21-14.
The Gamecocks answered on the drive after Lattimore's injury, marching 67 yards for a one-yard touchdown run by Shaw with 14 seconds left in the half.
NOTES: South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles missed his second straight game because of shoulder sprain, and J.T. Surratt started in his place again. ... Saturday marked the fifth time in five SEC games this season for Tennessee that it has played an opponent ranked in the Associated Press top 25. The Volunteers previously lost to No. 18 Florida, No. 5 Georgia, No. 19 Mississippi State and No. 1 Alabama. ... Before driving 81 yards for a touchdown on its first possession, South Carolina had only three scoring drives of 80-plus yards this season, all for touchdowns.