Meanwhile, the LSU offense was showing some signs of improvement. Senior Quarterback Buddy Lee ran the team smoothly, and his backup, sophomore Bert Jones, connected on a 57-yard pass for LSU's longest gain of the afternoon. Running Backs Art Cantrelle and Jimmy LeDoux each scored and made some good yardage, but the best running came from a member of the defense, Safety Craig Burns, who set up a touchdown with a 33-yard punt return and a field-goal attempt with an interception return.
"LSU is just real, real tough defensively," said Bear Bryant. "They were much more aggressive in the secondary than we were, and their front whipped ours badly."
"We don't try to outsmart anybody," said LSU's McClendon. "We stick to technique. Above all we try not to give the other team anything. I won't say this was our best defensive game, but it was surely one of our best. I think it's about time people started recognizing us. We're a pretty good team."
Perhaps even more than the others, LSU is eager to get into a major bowl. Last season the Tigers had a 9-1 record, best in the SEC, and were kind of willing to play in the Cotton Bowl. Then Notre Dame surfaced, and in the ensuing confusion LSU was left without an invitation to any big bowl. As a matter of pride, the LSU players voted down the Astro-Bluebonnet. They may have a more exciting vote to make this year.
So Charley McClendon is understandably proud of his LSU team, but how about Tennessee's young Bill Battle? Up until Saturday he was making this coaching business look like a snap. Only 28, Battle was Athletic Director Bob Woodruff's personal choice to succeed Doug Dickey when the latter went to Florida. Dickey's departure upset Tennessee fans enough, but the bile really started flowing when Woodruff named Battle. How could a mere kid go in against Bear and Shug and all those other wise old SEC coaches?
Easy. Tennessee won six of its first seven, and the Volunteers even gave Auburn a time of it before losing 36-23. Battle, bless his irreverent heart, has a stock answer for those who ask foolish questions, like how does it feel to be so young? "I don't know," says Battle. "I've never been any older."
Battle probably aged a bit on Saturday. The Vols nursed a 10-3 lead through the first three quarters, but suddenly Quarterback Tommy Suggs got South Carolina moving. Suggs, who has been the recipient of boos and hate mail for his play this season, led the Gamecocks 80 yards for a touchdown, a two-point conversion and an 11-10 lead. The score came with 6:55 left to play. Then, after Tennessee went ahead on Quarterback Bobby Scott's 20-yard pass to Fullback Curt Watson, Suggs hit Flanker Jimmy Mitchell for 61 yards and an 18-17 lead with 4:56 to play.
With Scott injured and on the sidelines, the Vols' backup quarterback, Dennis Chadwick, came in and moved the team to the Carolina 14 with 23 seconds left. Both teams were out of timeouts, but Tennessee rushed in Hunt to kick the winning field goal with time running out. Battle, who once coached under South Carolina's Paul Dietzel, allowed himself some youthful enthusiasm after the game.
"Regardless of whether you play well or not," he said, "you show class when you come from behind."
The Vols have perhaps the best-balanced team in the conference. They have a capable passer in Scott, the blond quarterback who looks like Glen Campbell. He had hit on 21 of 38 passes in Tennessee's 38-7 rout of Florida. And in Watson, the 217-pound junior fullback, the Vols have a powerful runner. Their defense is sound, too, especially the secondary. Led by Safeties Tim Priest and Bobby Majors, it picked up 23 interceptions in the first six games.