FOOTBALL: UT tries not to look past Kentucky

It will be easy for disgruntled Tennessee fans and critics to question whether or not Tennessee belongs in the SEC championship game after its performance against Vanderbilt, but don't expect the Vols to apologize for earning a shot at the title regardless of the circumstances.

After dominating Vanderbilt by a combined score of 110-0 over the past three seasons the Vols blew a 22-point lead on their way to a 38-33 victory.

"All I know is that we're the Eastern Division champions in the SEC. Not one person picked us to do that," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We're young and we've faced lots of adversity."

Now the 15th-ranked Vols (8-2, 6-1) will play Kentucky on Saturday before turning its attention to third-ranked Auburn in the SEC championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 4.

"Auburn will likely lick their chops after watching this tape," Fulmer said.

What Auburn will see is a team that raced out to a 28-6 lead before allowing the Commodores to climb back in the game with 420 yards of total offense, including 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Still, the Vols did all they had to do to win the game, with Cedric Houston rushing for three touchdowns, Gerald Riggs Jr. rushing for 149 yards, and cornerback Roshaun Fellows intercepting a pass with 2:07 to go to secure the win.

The Vols also survived quarterback Rick Clausen's first start. Clausen, a third-string junior subbing for injured quarterbacks Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer, completed 19 of 30 for 189 yards and two touchdowns.

"We're playing average football right now, and we can't play average," linebacker Kevin Burnett said. "My job as a captain is to get this team to play beyond our capabilities. I'm glad this game is over, to be honest with you."

NOTES, QUOTES
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Rick Clausen -- Starting for the first time because of injuries to freshmen Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge, Clausen completed 19 of 30 passes for 189 yards with two touchdowns.

KEEP AN EYE ON: RBs Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs, Jr. -- Tennessee rushed for 236 yards as Houston rushed for three touchdowns and 97 yards and Riggs added 149 yards.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have to get better playing with a lead. We have to learn how to finish." -- Tennessee defensive end Parys Haralson.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Two starting offensive linemen, center Jason Respert and guard Cody Douglas, didn't make the trip because of injuries, and OT Michael Munoz missed the second half with a shoulder sprain, but the Vols still rushed for 236 yards and didn't give up any sacks. "Everybody wants to talk about the injuries and talk about the number of the guys down," running back Gerald Riggs Jr. said. "But I think what should be talked about is how well the guys that were in there played."

STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: Tennessee allowed 33 points and 420 yards, including 13 points in the fourth quarter to a Vanderbilt team that had not scored in the final quarter of an SEC game this season.

ROSTER REPORT: As if playing without Respert and Douglas wasn't enough, OT Michael Munoz suffered a sprained shoulder, returned briefly in the first half and then sat out the entire second half. Those injuries forced Richie Gandy to play four positions against Vanderbilt, including starting at center. He ended up playing every offensive line position except for left guard.


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