'Not dead yet'

Berry and defense deliver knockout against Mississippi State, 34-3

Tennessee safety Eric Berry waves to fans after the Vol's 34-3 win over Mississippi State Saturday at Neyland Stadium. The sophomore set a new SEC record for career interception return yards in the game.

Photo by Saul Young

Tennessee safety Eric Berry waves to fans after the Vol's 34-3 win over Mississippi State Saturday at Neyland Stadium. The sophomore set a new SEC record for career interception return yards in the game.

When Tennessee’s offense whiffed on a couple of knockout punches Saturday night, the defense took matters into its own hands.

In a span of 87 seconds of the fourth quarter, the Vols scored twice on interception returns to turn out the lights on Mississippi State in a 34-3 SEC victory at Neyland Stadium.

“Not dead yet,’’ said UT coach Phillip Fulmer after the Vols improved to 3-4 and nailed down their first SEC win after an 0-3 start.

“It’s almost indescribable the difference between winning and losing.’’

An announced crowd of 98,239 might have still had some doubt about who would be winning and who would be losing when the third quarter ended.

UT was nursing a 13-3 lead, but also failing on a couple of opportunities to extend it.

That doubt was removed with a flourish when a couple of Vol defenders picked off Tyson Lee passes and personally deposited them in the end zone.

That the irrepressible Eric Berry got the first one and took it 72 yards for a score came as no shock.

The sophomore’s 10th career interception — in only 21 games — was followed by an electrifying dash that broke the SEC career return-yardage record and made it 20-3 with 10:37 on the clock.

“I’ve never seen anybody like Eric Berry,’’ said Fulmer.

“It’s amazing what he does when he has the football in his hands.’’

Three plays later Lee threw another ball to an orange jersey.

The only surprise was that it was not No. 14 this time.

Instead, Demetrice Morley had only 32 yards to cover with his pick and Tennessee led 27-3 with 9:10 to play.

“You can’t turn the ball over for points and expect to win,’’ said Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom, “especially (against) a talented team like that on the road.

“In some areas they (UT) are not as strong as normal and in some areas they are better than they normally are.’’

When Morley crossed the goal line, the UT defense had outscored the offense 14-13.

That changed on Lennon Creer’s 1-yard touchdown with 2:39 to play — his 12th carry in a 12-play drive.

Tennessee, tuning up for a visit from No. 2 Alabama, never trailed in besting the Bulldogs (2-5, 1-3) in a match of offensively challenged teams.

Daniel Lincoln’s two field goals staked UT to a 6-3 halftime lead. Montario Hardesty scored on a 1-yard plunge in the third quarter to make it 13-3.

UT outgained State 275 yards to 189. The Vols won the rushing battle handily, 139 yards to 69.

“We’ve been in the doldrums offensively,’’ Fulmer said. “Tonight, we made some strides to come out of that.’’

Nick Stephens was 10-of-20 passing for 136 yards, a modest but efficient effort. He has yet to throw an interception in his three starts.

“My job is to go out and play smart and let the defense and running game do their jobs,’’ Stephens said.

“The O-line did a great job tonight. That’s what it came down to.’’

The D-line did a pretty good job as well — after halftime.

The Bulldogs managed only 69 yards and four first downs in the second half.

Not unpredictably, the first half was a battle for field-goal opportunities, neither team able to seriously threaten the end zone.

The Bulldogs smartly marched the game’s opening possession to the UT 19. But Lee was shaken up while being sacked by Chris Walker, after which Adam Carlson missed a 39-yard field-goal try.

Tennessee started slow, as per usual. The crowd’s first cheer came when Creer ran 4 yards to convert a first down on the first play of the second period.

Stephens hustled 18 yards on a scramble to the 23, but it was still left to Lincoln to hit from 36 yards for a 3-0 lead.

Carlson’s accuracy was better on his second try, from 43 yards, and it was 3-3 with 6:34 left in the half.

The Vols found success with Arian Foster in the running game, including a 19-yard scamper to the State 9.

The 8, however, was the end of the line. Lincoln was true from 28 yards and the Vols took a 6-3 lead into the break.

Tennessee would dominate the second half, beginning with Dennis Rogan’s 40-yard return to near midfield on the opening kickoff.

Stephens then completed three critical passes to shepherd the 53-yard drive to the end zone.

The biggest came on fourth-and-2 at the State 30. Stephens found Lucas Taylor for a first down at the 21.

From there, a third-and-10 pass to Austin Rogers produced an apparent touchdown. However, after review, Rogers was ruled down at the 1.

Hardesty dived over the top and UT led 13-3.

That’s where it stayed at the end of the third quarter, despite another Tennessee threat.

Stephens and Denarius Moore hooked up for a 45-yard bomb to the State 17. It went for naught, however, then Lincoln skulled a 34-yard field-goal try wide left.

In short order, DeAngelo Willingham’s interception on the first play of the fourth quarter gave the Vols an opportunity at the Bulldogs’ 47. Three plays went nowhere and Britton Colquitt punted it away.

But the interceptions were contagious.

Lee who had not been picked off in 93 attempts coming into the game, was victimized three times in a span of eight throws and that was the ballgame.

“It goes back to a team effort,’’ said Berry. “When you’re getting pressure up front and getting tipped balls, just run to the ball and good things will happen.’’

Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276.

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Comments » 354

djstnvols#251635 writes:

Go Vols!!!!

threehundredbowler writes:

Praise thge Lord and pass the biscuits.

allvolinatlanta writes:

Good game. Defense stepped up and we were able to run the ball a little.

rockytoptilidie writes:

I'm glad for the W (and I didn't pay for it), we're still not a very well coached team...

eutefan writes:

Like they said on PPV, "I feel good!"

hdhurst writes:

Defense breeds offense....go vols. Now, go upset bama and bring some pride back to UT.

ubershamu312 writes:

Can Eric Berry help someone?

steve22043#233791 writes:

Thank goodness--a good win. Hopefully we can build on this. Is it just me or do other people think it's stupid to play the hardest part of our schedule early in the season?t

CRFVols writes:

Many or May happy returns?? lol

orangecountry21 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

volcycle writes:

I like this effort, obviously. We're improving. Hope it's enough for next week.

threehundredbowler writes:

Eric berry.player of the game and player of the year in the SEC.

volsare1 writes:

i hope gerald jones is ok lets build on this for next week

RussellP (Inactive) writes:

This ought to shut some Fulmer haters up! Go Vols!

orangecountry21 writes:

Anyone on the inside of UT recruiting fill me in on where we are with Branden Smith or any other prospects. PLEEAASSEEE

Alphafemale writes:

Yahoooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Feels good to win in the SEC!

orangecountry21 writes:

in response to Alphafemale:

Yahoooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Feels good to win in the SEC!

Vandy fan from the 90's

volfan007 writes:

What was the attendance at this game? It looked like a lot of empty seats in the upper deck. What do yall think? 85,000 actual attendance? or, 90,000? or, what?

FlaVol2 writes:

Great playing Vols. Now keep it up next week.

IdahoVol writes:

We're back!!! Go Vols!!!

eutefan writes:

Let the hating of Bama begin, NOW!

hotrodvol writes:

GO VOLS...now maybe we can get up for the biggest game of the year, SATAN and BAMA.

gslaton#227127 writes:

Eric Berry is the real deal! All-American! Plus, he seems to knock somebody's sh*t loose two or three times a game.
Go Vols.

ctexorange writes:

Great game vols.....Keep improving

BEAT BAMA

ksteelescvol writes:

What was State's D ranked coming into this game anyone know? They were like 5th in nation against pass...

jsm67vol writes:

FINALLY-PROGRESS!!!!!!

gavol74 writes:

this was just what this team needed,We played with fire,had fun and finally had a pass rush....orange country21...last year everyone wanted chavis ran out of town...turns out he might be a pretty good football coach,I think all the fire fulmer people need to take a look and understand new offense new coaches,fulmer IS A GOOD FOOTBALL COACH!!!!..it has taken some time but we will turn the corner and beat bama and win out!!!!!!!!!!!

shipperman#280095 writes:

in response to RussellP:

This ought to shut some Fulmer haters up! Go Vols!

Why because he beat the other SEC bottom feeder? get real. Next week, there will be no smiles in VOL country. And i fear South Carolina this year. They are a solid defensive team and Garcia is 9-15 for 165 yards thus far against LSU. And the ole ball coach always instills fear in Fulmer

agarn writes:

in response to eutefan:

Let the hating of Bama begin, NOW!

Did it ever end?

FWBVol writes:

There's no such thing as a bad win unless you are one of those hoping for a new coach.

I'll take the win and let the coaching situation play out the next five games. Some of the names people have mentioned as being possible replacements if Hamilton does decide to part ways with Phillip Fulmer had a rough time today. Wake was shutout by Maryland and Stanford lost to UCLA.

Congrats to Eric Berry for breaking the SEC record for interception return yardage tonight.

Let's hope we can build on this win next week with the Bama coming to town.

MillisaAnn writes:

I am glad we won, the Defense was the ones that won the game.

The offense has got to get better especially playing against bama.

shipperman#280095 writes:

in response to gavol74:

this was just what this team needed,We played with fire,had fun and finally had a pass rush....orange country21...last year everyone wanted chavis ran out of town...turns out he might be a pretty good football coach,I think all the fire fulmer people need to take a look and understand new offense new coaches,fulmer IS A GOOD FOOTBALL COACH!!!!..it has taken some time but we will turn the corner and beat bama and win out!!!!!!!!!!!

Keep dreaming. If you think this team will win out that is what you are doing. but we always have our dreams

ncvol writes:

Rocky Top - You'll always be..Home Sweet Home to me....
I think that our team played well tonight and Eric Berry was awesome...
Go Vols !

volfan007 writes:

The attendance everyone????

How many people were actually there?

bobbarbilly writes:

" Ya' know, this team is startin' to come together...I think there could be some potential all-stars out there."

hotrodvol writes:

in response to agarn:

Did it ever end?

NEVER EVER

rockytoptilidie writes:

in response to hdhurst:

Defense breeds offense....go vols. Now, go upset bama and bring some pride back to UT.

My pride sold on eBay for $29 today...

trl_x writes:

A good win. Miss St isn't a very good offensive team but they aren't bad on defense.

Progress and a victory.

Go Vols!

Berry is beyond special...

TommyJack writes:

in response to RussellP:

This ought to shut some Fulmer haters up! Go Vols!

Not so fast my phfriend. Phire Phulmer Phast.
Props to Johnny Majors for recruiting James Berry.

gavol74 writes:

in response to shipperman#280095:

Keep dreaming. If you think this team will win out that is what you are doing. but we always have our dreams

we did it last year with no defense and a QB who had a busted up arm and no running game,.....Why Not?

rockytoptilidie writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Not so fast my phfriend. Phire Phulmer Phast.
Props to Johnny Majors for recruiting James Berry.

lol lol lol lol lol

agarn writes:

in response to RussellP:

This ought to shut some Fulmer haters up! Go Vols!

It's not that we're Fulmer haters becasue he has done a lot...it's that we love UT and we're tired of poor coaching. They beat the last place team out of the SEC West. That only makes us the best of the worst at this time. Next week will really tell a story...and hopefully not a horror story.

ibvolman writes:

O.K. the question begs to be answered. This past week there was full contact in practice, not green shirts, full speed ahead. Notice the results? TN actually demonstrated a decent level of oofense in the 2nd half, and moved the ball fairly well in the first half.

So...Why in the dickins hasn't UT practiced this way all season?

We were not prepared for the previous games because we didn't practice like we expected to play in those games. It seems to hold too true, you play like you practice.

Fulmer is a genius. It only took him the first half of the season to figure it all out. Let's see if he can remember it come Monday, and practice like this again. It is the ONLY shot we would have at beating Bummer.

writer#358485 writes:

Good win over a tough team. They've played some other teams close and beat Vandy which is no slouch this year. Beat Bama and shut up the losers on this board! Go Vols!

volnknox writes:

in response to RussellP:

This ought to shut some Fulmer haters up! Go Vols!

oh yea this shuts us up! Beating the last place team in the sec west- yahhoo!!!!

CTM749115 writes:

The Team knows what it feels like to win again and the fans can cheer, but it still doesn't alter the need for change.

It's not that people "hate" Fulmer. Most people have never met him, and those who have, say he's a nice guy. But it's about ability and timing and leadership.

Hope everyone is this elated after the third weekend in October.

rockytoptilidie writes:

in response to gavol74:

we did it last year with no defense and a QB who had a busted up arm and no running game,.....Why Not?

Alabama beat us 128-7 last year... I am going to say this one more time for the KOOL AID drinkers - just because we played in the SECCG does NOT mean we were the SECOND BEST FOOTBALL TEAM in the SEC last season... Florida, Cal and Bama averaged more than 50 on us.

I hate Alabama more than I hate a sword flying up my rectal cavity, but they are going to hammer us next week in front of 78000...

VOLnNC writes:

God Eric Berry is the best person in the world.
If I was a homosexual I would marry him.
Nothing against homosexuals though I'm just saying that I am not one. Not that it would be bad if I was, I mean rainbows are awesome! But that doesn't make you a homosexual if you like them. Not that there would be anything wrong with that.

shipperman#280095 writes:

in response to gavol74:

we did it last year with no defense and a QB who had a busted up arm and no running game,.....Why Not?

We have no offense against the good teams. Look at Florida, Georgia, Auburn, which isn't so good. And Bama will kick our cans. And South Carolina is giving LSU all they can handle. And Spurrier instills fear in Fulmer. We will not be as lucky this year as we were last year

gavol74 writes:

in response to shipperman#280095:

Why because he beat the other SEC bottom feeder? get real. Next week, there will be no smiles in VOL country. And i fear South Carolina this year. They are a solid defensive team and Garcia is 9-15 for 165 yards thus far against LSU. And the ole ball coach always instills fear in Fulmer

South carolina is not as good defensive football team as Miss state,And they lead the Sec in turnovers on offense..With our ball hawk secondary I see no reason to fear South carolina...Garcia is ok but he is a red shirt freshman..chavis will dial somthing special up for him...we'll be fine

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