October 18, 2008

Vols down Mississippi State 34-3

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., - Mississippi State and Tennessee were neck-and-neck at the end of the first half.

Only one yard separated the two schools during the halftime intermission.

But the Volunteers took the opening drive of the third quarter in for a score and intercepted two passes for touchdowns early on in the fourth en route to a 34-3 win in front of 98,239 at Neyland Stadium.

"We let them hit a couple of big plays," said Mississippi State safety Derek Pegues. "They ran the ball a little bit better in the second half. They were able to hit a couple of big plays in the passing game. They just really went down in the first drive and asserted themselves, played physical and was able to put the ball in the end zone."

In all, Tennessee (3-4, 1-3) racked up 275 yards of total offense with a balanced attack of 139 yards rushing and 136 passing.

"We didn't tackle well at times," said MSU head coach Sylvester Croom. "They've got two very talented backs and a big, strong offensive line. Our defense did well in the first half but the first drive of the second half they wore on us. I think that is where a change started to come."

Lennon Creer led the Vol ground game with 68 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown.

"I was about as comfortable as I could have been," Stephens said. "I knew what we were capable of and I knew what our offensive line and running game were capable of. We went out tonight and executed and in that part of the game it felt good to away with a win like this."

Nick Stephens hit on 10-of-20 passing for 136 yards finding both Lucas Taylor and Austin Rogers twice for 23 yards each. Denarius Moore also hauled in one pass for 45 yards.

Mississippi State (2-5, 1-3) moved the ball well on its first drive chewing up 62 yards but Tyson Lee went down with a sprained knee on a second down scramble.

"I think my knee just got tucked up under me," Lee said. "They ran coverage and I couldn't see the receivers so I was going to try to tuck and run it. I saw my knee buckle underneath me and I heard it pop."

Wesley Carroll tossed an incomplete pass on the next play leaving Adam Carlson with a 39-yard field goal attempt. The try sailed wide left leaving the Bulldogs scoreless.

The Volunteers were the first to get on the board early in the second quarter. Tennessee went 47 yards on a 10-play drive that spilled over from the first quarter. Daniel Lincoln nailed a 36-yard field goal with 11:17 to give the Vols a 3-0 lead.

MSU countered to tie the score on the next possession. Lee returned to help the Bulldogs picked up three first downs driving 44 yards in 10-plays and Carlson punched through a 43-yard field goal with 6:18 left before halftime.

"There is no question that injury shook (Lee) up," Croom said. "We thought we had lost him. It showed a lot of courage coming back and battling the way he did."

But Tennessee responded to take the lead just before the half. The Volunteers churned out a 10-play, 63 yard drive capped off by a 26-yard field goal by Lincoln with 1:09 before the half to take the 6-3 advantage into the locker room at halftime.

Tennessee wasted little time putting points up in the third quarter. After a 40 yard kickoff return, the Vols marched 53 yards down the field in 11-plays and finally reached pay dirt when Montario Hardesty plunged in from a yard out with 10:00 on the clock. Lincoln kicked the extra point for the 13-3 edge.

The Vols had an opportunity to extend their lead before the end of the third quarter. After a 45-yard hook up between Stephens and Moore, the drive stalled and Lincoln missed from 34-yards out with 1:34 on the clock.

On the ensuing possession, Lee threw his first career interception when a pass intended for Aubrey Bellwas batted into the air and picked off by DeAngelo Willingham at the MSU 44-yard line.

On the next MSU drive, Lee tossed his second pick of the game to Eric Berry. Barry took the interception 72-yards for the score to become the all-time interception return yard leader. Lincoln added the point after for the 20-3 Volunteer advantage.

"On the interception I was headed to the ball and I think Ellix (Wilson) tipped it and it went down hill from there," Barry said.

It was déjà vu on the next Bulldog possession as Lee was picked off again, this time by Demetrice Morley, and returned 32-yards for the touchdown. Lincoln's PAT gave Tennessee a 27-3 edge.

The Volunteers tacked on their final score of the evening after a 12-play, 51-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown dive by Creer. Lincoln's point after was again true to wrap up the scoring.

Mississippi State finished the game with 189 total yards on offense with three turnovers. The Bulldogs had 120 yards through the air and 69 yards rushing on the night.

"We didn't make the plays that we needed to and turned the ball over," Lee said. "The defense played well but you can't turn the ball over and win games like that."

Anthony Dixon carried 15 times for 46 yards to lead MSU and also caught three passes out of the backfield for 27 yards.

"We tried to get the ball to him throwing it out of the backfield," said MSU offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey. "But his strong suit is running the football and Tennessee did a good job of adjusting to that. They were able to take him away."

Lee ended the evening 12-of-23 passing for 114 yards and three interceptions.

"Sometimes he was late," McCorvey said. "We had them initially open if we could have gotten it out a little quicker. Two of them that I know of we were late on and the ball was behind. That's what happens when the ball is thrown late and is tipped."

Lee took full responsibility for his first turnovers of the season.

"I threw to the wrong person," Lee said. "It was bad decisions on my part. I tried to force the ball when I shouldn't have. I hadn't been doing that and I guess trying to make something happen. I just should have thrown the ball somewhere else."

Lee was also sacked five times.

"A lot of times when people look at protection they look at the offensive line," McCorvey said. "But the backs and the tight ends are involved in that also. That was one of the problems that we had especially after we had to throw the football as much as we did in the second half."

Brandon McRae grabbed two balls for 28 yards in the first half but went without a catch in the second.

Berry paced the Volunteer defense with 10 tackles, one sack, two pass breakups and one interception for a touchdown.

"I don't know if I've ever seen anybody like Eric Berry," said Tennessee head coach [db]Phillip Fulmer. "It's amazing what he does when he has a football in his hands and the spirit he brings to the team."

Nevin McKenzie followed with eight tackles and 1.5 sacks for the Volunteers and Wilson added five stops.

[db]Zach Smith led State with 11 tackles followed by Karlin Brown with eight stops. Tim Bailey and Dominic Douglas finished with six tackles each and 0.5 tackles for loss apiece.

"We had some big missed tackles," Douglas said. "We as a defense have been key in making tackles. But today was just a downslide of missed tackles."

Bailey and LeMarcus Williams combined for the Bulldogs only sack.

Tennessee will tangle with rival Alabama on Saturday while the Bulldogs return for their homecoming match-up with Middle Tennessee.

"I told them I was proud of them before we got here and the way they prepared and I'm still proud of them as we leave the game," Croom said. "I'm disappointed that we lost because we had our opportunities. We were so close on a couple of plays in the first half and we just didn't make them."

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