- Box Score
- Audio slide show of the game
- Dave Hooker audio with DE Xavier Mitchell, OL Jacques McClendon, K Daniel Lincoln, S Jonathan Hefney, DT Demonte' Bolden, DB coach Larry Slade, RB coach Kurt Roper, and OL coach Greg Adkins.
- Sept. 9, 2007 Vol Report
- Video: Tennessee postgame highlights, comments
Call it a step in the right direction.
As Saturday night wore on at Neyland Stadium, Tennessee gradually looked less like the team that was out of sync last week at California and more like one that has a fighting chance next week at Florida.
The 24th-ranked Vols pulled away from a tentative first half to notch a convincing 39-19 win over Southern Mississippi before a home-opener crowd of 106,311.
With Erik Ainge throwing two touchdowns and Arian Foster rushing for a pair, Tennessee (1-1) was able to spot Southern Miss (1-1) leads of 13-7 and 16-10 and still win comfortably.
The defense bent but broke only once, a busted coverage in the secondary that resulted in a 69-yard Jeremy Young touchdown bomb to Chris Johnson in the first quarter.
Otherwise, the Golden Eagles moved the ball but had to settle for a school record-tying four field goals.
The missed tackles that plagued the Vols at Cal were few and far between.
They notched two quarterback sacks - their first two of the season - and produced three turnovers, one a fumble resulting in a fourth-quarter safety.
"Chief (defensive coordinator John Chavis) called the plays and put us in position to make plays,'' said defensive end Robert Ayers.
"We did a little of everything. That was just good play-calling that set us up.''
Even the kicking game that had fatal flaws last week showed promise, despite Britton Colquitt staying on the sideline to rest his injured leg.
Daniel Lincoln was perfect on three field-goal tries, hitting from 36, 38 and 47 yards. Chad Cunningham kicked off and averaged 40.7 yards punting and had none returned.
All things considered, it was something to build on as Tennessee heads to Florida next Saturday to begin the SEC East title race (3:30 p.m. TV: WVLT).
Ainge finished 23-of-36 for 276 yards passing with no interceptions.
"Erik Ainge is a heckuva football player,'' said UT head coach Phillip Fulmer.
"He understands, he sees, he throws.''
And his receivers catch.
Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe had the touchdown receptions. Rogers had seven catches for 112 yards, all in the first half. Lucas Taylor had five for 118.
Foster, meanwhile, ground out 125 yards on 23 carries.
"It was good to see Arian Foster with 100-plus yards and two receivers over 100, that's fun,'' said Fulmer.
"You've got the offense going pretty good when that happens.''
It took a bit of slipping and sliding to get the offense going good.
Southern Miss led all but 11 seconds of the first half, up until Ainge's touchdown pass to Briscoe put the Vols ahead to stay, 17-16, with 4:29 to play in the half.
The Vols then expanded that lead to 27-16 in the third quarter, sandwiching a Lincoln field goal and a Foster touchdown around a Southern Miss turnover.
Lincoln's 36-yarder made it 20-16. The Golden Eagles' first possession of the second half ended when Jarod Parrish recovered a Southern Miss fumble at the UT 46.
It took a mere 82 seconds for the Vols to convert. A 35-yard pass to Taylor set up Foster's 9-yard scoring run.
"I was really pleased to see the defense come out with that kind of drive and get the ball back,'' said Ainge.
Southern Miss tightened the margin to 27-19 with its fourth field goal with 12:19 to play.
It could have been even tighter. The Golden Eagles had second-and-goal at the 3 when Tennessee's defense made two big plays.
Ayers and Jerod Mayo threw Young for a loss at the 7. On third-and-goal, McCoy blasted a receiver to break up a pass and force the field goal.
An onside-kickoff try failed, leaving UT only 45 yards to go for another touchdown, a 1-yard Foster run.
It was 34-19 with 8:32 left and momentum was all in Tennessee's corner.
"We knew (being ahead) three scores would put the game away the way the defense was playing,'' said Ainge.
UT's special teams made a contribution that maintained the momentum.
On the kickoff after Foster's score, Southern Miss fumbled the return and Nick Reveiz recovered to put the Vols back in business at the Golden Eagles' 45.
UT settled for a 47-yard field goal from Lincoln - he's 4-of-4 on the year - and a 37-19 lead.
The safety came with 5:29 left after Nevin McKenzie sacked backup quarterback Stephen Reaves, who fumbled and then intentionally kicked the ball through the end zone.
The second half was by far UT's best defensive half of the young season.
The Golden Eagles managed a modest 108 yards in the second half after rolling up 246 in the first half.
While Southern Miss moved the chains in the first half, the Vols limited the damage to field goals on all but one occasion.
Justin Estes hit from 30 on the game's opening drive and later from 40. In between, Britt Barefoot hit a 51-yarder.
After spotting Southern Miss a 3-0 lead, Ainge marched the Vols for a touchdown, a 26-yard strike to a wide-open Rogers for a 7-3 lead.
It lasted 11 seconds.
Young heaved the 69-yard touchdown on the first play after the kickoff, taking advantage of a busted coverage in UT's secondary.
An exchange of field goals left it 13-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Another Southern Miss field goal made it 16-10 with 5:18 left in the half, but that was the high-water mark for the visitors.
Tennessee began its march to victory with a 10-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in Ainge's 5-yard touchdown strike to Briscoe.
The Vols needed a clutch fourth-down conversion to keep the drive alive and Ainge delivered.
Facing fourth-and-7 at the Southern Miss 32 with 1:43 to play, Ainge found Rogers for a 24-yard gain to the 8.
Two plays later, on third-and-goal, Ainge fired a bullet to Briscoe for the score.
Sophomore linebacker Rico McCoy then ended the first half with an interception off Young.
"I felt myself getting comfortable tonight,'' said McCoy, "and when you get comfortable you can make plays.''