Game-day recap: Tennessee-Ole Miss
Tennessee Stat Book
One was thrown late. Another was an overthrow.
But don't expect to hear any complaints from Tennessee's defensive players or coaches.
A UT secondary that's been battered on the field by poor performances and off the field by injuries and little depth had its best game of the season Saturday afternoon, returning two of its four interceptions for touchdowns in the Vols' 52-14 romp over Ole Miss at Neyland Stadium.
"I say it every week, that's the key," UT coach Derek Dooley said of the five turnovers UT forced.
"It's also sometimes an indication of how locked in you are. I tell the team, 'You create your own luck. Teams aren't lucky, they create it.' They create it by playing fast (and) they create it by playing with confidence."
Cornerback Eric Gordon intercepted Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and raced 46 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, and Prentiss Waggner - playing his third game at corner since moving from safety - ran one back 10 yards for a third-quarter score.
"I consider myself a ball hawk," Waggner said. "That play was pretty much instinct. I saw the D-line get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. I knew it was going to be a slip-screen and I jumped it."
"Prentiss," Dooley said, "he's an instinctive guy. He's always around (the ball). Eric, he's a scrapper. (Masoli) served one up to him and he took advantage of it. To do that, you've got to be playing confidently and put yourself in position.
"I think some guys have a knack. Sometimes you can be too aggressive and you give up a big play, but Prentiss seems to have a pretty good knack."
Janzen Jackson intercepted Masoli's deep pass into double coverage in the third, and former Austin-East High School star Anthony Anderson got one late against Ole Miss backup Nathan Stanley. Brent Brewer led the Vols with eight tackles.
"We talk about it in practice, playing aggressive no matter the lack of depth we have in the secondary," said Waggner, who became the first UT player ever with three interception-return touchdowns in a season. "We attacked the ball and we happened to make a lot of big plays.
"We know we can make those plays, we're all great athletes."
UT (4-6, 1-5 SEC) entered the game ninth in the SEC in pass defense (240 yards per game), but held the Rebels (4-6, 1-5) to 99 yards with Art Evans still suspended and Marsalis Teague playing through a nagging turf-toe injury.
The Vols added three sacks and held Ole Miss to just two of 12 third-down conversions.
"When (the secondary) has a big day, D-line has a big day," end Malik Jackson said. "With the sacks we have, and the picks they had with our pressures, everybody was together, everybody wins."
Added receiver Gerald Jones: "Very proud of them. They played a very good game coverage-wise and even tackling-wise. Hard work paid off."
UT took advantage of some poor throws and poor decisions by Masoli, the former Oregon star who was a game-time decision after suffering a mild concussion last week.
"We knew he was going to play," Dooley said. "We never even prepared for the other guy. The defense did a phenomenal job of keeping him in the pocket, making him throw out of the pocket, we didn't break contain.
"He's a special player and he can do a lot of things, but we played fast and we took advantage of some opportunities that he gave us."
UT held Brandon Bolden (12 carries for 113 yards) to 32 second-half yards as UT's lead ballooned and forced the Rebels to abandon the SEC's second-best ground game.
"If we could keep pulling away a little bit and hold that run game down, then we get them into doing things that they're not comfortable doing," Dooley said. "When you make a team play left-handed, it gives you a better chance."
"It's easy for us to pass-rush," end Chris Walker said, "when you have guys back there that are ball hawks."
Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.