COLUMBIA, S.C. - Down 8-0 before the half, quarterback Erik Ainge wasn't worried about Tennessee's offense - no matter how many mistakes it made early against South Carolina.
"Once we got the lid off, once we got that first touchdown, we knew when we came out in the second half it was going to be a different ballgame," Ainge said.
Ainge was right. He threw three touchdowns and Cedric Houston ran for a career-high 190 yards to lead Tennessee to its 12th straight victory over South Carolina, 43-29 on Saturday.
At first, Ainge and the Vols could do little right. They didn't get a first down until the second quarter and managed just 79 total yards with three minutes left before the half.
Then Brent Schaeffer connected on a 55-yard pass to C.J. Fayton on third and long that fired up Tennessee's attack. Ainge, shuttled back in, found David Holbert two plays later on a 21-yard TD. Schaeffer came in for the two-point conversion, striding into the end zone 30 seconds before the break to tie it at 8.
Now the Vols have a pretty clear path to the SEC title game. They've already beaten Georgia and have to get past league doormats Kentucky and Vanderbilt next month to reach the Georgia Dome on Dec. 4.
"We feel pretty good about our chances," said cornerback Jonathan Hefney, who had one of Tennessee's three interceptions. "But we're not going to overlook anybody."
Perhaps the Vols looked past South Carolina at first. It took until 9:53 of the second quarter for Tennessee to get a first down. Two other long plays were wiped out as part of the Vols' seven first-half penalties. South Carolina held the ball almost 12 more minutes than Tennessee in the first half.
South Carolina's Dondrial Pinkins, playing for the first time in almost a month because of a partially torn rotator cuff, was 30-of-42 for a career-high 306 yards.
AUBURN 35, OLE MISS 14: Jason Campbell rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another, and visiting Auburn clinched a spot in the conference championship game. Campbell, the league's most efficient quarterback, was 11-of-22 for 234 yards and had two 1-yard touchdown runs for the Tigers, who scored 28 points after halftime to lock up the West title.
The Tigers have won or shared four of the past five division crowns, but are 0-2 in league championship games since the SEC split into divisions in 1992. Ronnie Brown ran for 100 yards and a touchdown, and Carnell Williams had 96 yards rushing and a 29-yard TD run.
Auburn never trailed, but the Rebels were thinking upset early in the fourth. Ethan Flatt's 25-yard touchdown to Taye Biddle pulled Ole Miss within seven. That didn't last long. Williams set up Campbell's second TD when he returned a punt 38 yards to the Ole Miss 25. The Rebels didn't threaten the rest of the way.
LSU 24, VANDERBILT 7: Alley Broussard ran for 80 yards and a touchdown, spearheading a strong game for the host Tigers.
LSU has been inconsistent on offense and has struggled to run, averaging 155 yards. Only Justin Vincent has had a 100-yard game this season, and that was against Arkansas State.
But against the Commodores, the Tigers rushed for 273 yards, with Joseph Addai adding 77 and quarterback Marcus Randall 68.
LSU, which was second in the SEC in passing at 249 yards a game, threw 11 times for 102 yards.
The Tigers also got two key plays, a blocked field goal and a fumble recovery, from defensive back Jessie Daniels.
MISS. ST. 22, KENTUCKY 7: King grad Fred Reid rushed for 109 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown with 3:34 left, for the host Bulldogs. Jerious Norwood ran for 165 yards, his third straight 100-yard rushing performance for Mississippi State, which had no problem showing the same intensity it took to beat Florida last weekend.
The struggles continued on offense for Kentucky, which ranks last in the conference in scoring, total offense and passing efficiency. Mississippi State had four sacks and harassed quarterback Shane Boyd the entire game.