Tennessee ran through the gauntlet of SEC play over the last five weeks.

The beating ended with a heart wrenching 38-35 loss to South Carolina on Saturday.

The Volunteers are winless through October for the second time in the past three seasons. Head coach Derek Dooley said the defense needs to improve at what they're doing.

"There is just no excuse, we should be playing better than we are," Dooley said.

However, all is not lost and the Vols are confident that this year will end differently from the last.

"I'm pretty sure (a collapse) is not going to happen this season," senior linebacker Herman Lathers said. "We have a real close bunch. The players believe in the coach and the coaches believe in the players. We know what we're doing wrong and what we need to correct. We're going out to perform to the best of our ability and (we're) trying to get better every day."

Lathers displayed his leadership in full force on Saturday. The linebacker managed a game high 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a game changing interception which gave the Vols a chance to win the game. However, his effort wasn't enough to beat the No. 17 Gamecocks.

"We did a lot of things well but we gave up too many big plays and that's what really hurt us," he said. "We just have to eliminate big plays and we will be fine."

On the positive side, Tennessee's offense stopped the Gamecocks' defensive line, giving Tyler Bray plenty of time in the pocket. The only misstep came on the Jadeveon Clowney strip-sack of Bray with less than two minutes left in the game. The O-line has allowed an SEC low four quarterback sacks and have established a physical presence in the running game.

"I think this (line) is the best we've ever had," senior offensive lineman Dallas Thomas said. "It's because of the chemistry we have. Sometimes we don't even have to make calls on the line, we just go out and block."

Dooley said he thought the offense had an impressive performance against a great defense.

"Nobody has put those kind of yards on them, I don't know if they have done it in a long time," Dooley said. "To come out and beat them 21-10 in the second half is a great feat, but it wasn't good enough. At the end of the day we had 20 yards to go and we didn't get it done. It is a team loss, but there were some really good performances, especially on offense."

Despite losing all five of their SEC games so far, in which their opponents had a combined record of 36-5, the Vols have a relatively easier schedule in conference play for the rest of the season.

The Vols' remaining conference matchups are against Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The three teams have a combined 9-16 overall record and a 3-13 conference record.

Regardless, the Vols have a prime opportunity to finish out the season on a winning streak and make it to a bowl game. Dooley said that's not something he wants to focus on at this time.

"You guys heard me talk a little bit about a 'second season' and I think it is all pretty clear that the legacy of this team and the character of this team is going to be defined by how we compete (in) these last four games," said Dooley. "It is important to know that it's not four games because we can't go 4-0 without going 1-0.

"We have to get a win and we haven't done that in a while. We are playing a team that is averaging 460 yards a game. We are playing a team that lost to Mississippi State by six points and they put up over 500 yards of offense on them, so if we think we are going to roll the ball out there and get a 'W,' we are really fooling ourselves."

Lathers said he thinks each game is "winnable."

"We just have to go out and execute one week at a time," Lathers said. "We know we have a bowl game to play for and we (seniors) are trying to motivate this team and encourage each other."

The team is hoping to put their recent losses in the past and show fans what it means to win a game.

"There's a saying that goes 'everybody remembers what you do in November,'" he said. "We just want to win these games in November and give ourselves a chance. We have to keep growing. This team is a million miles from where it was last year."

Dooley knows morale will play a major part in each game. He said the good news is that the team is in good spirits.

"That doesn't mean they are happy about the result, but they are the way they have been all season," he said. "They have a lot of good character on it and those guys want to go out there. We can still accomplish some goals, but we can't do it if we don't go out and play well on Saturday."