After holding Tennessee to no points in the first half, the defense came out in the second and allowed a UT offense, led by LSU transfer Rick Clausen, to ring up 30 points to take the momentum and the victory away from the Tigers.
In this scenario, it is important for the Tigers to look for a silver lining. It came with about seven minutes left in the second quarter. After a brilliant pooch punt by Chris Jackson that was downed at the one yard line by Ronnie Pruitt, the Vols had the length of the field to travel.
Eric Ainge rushed for no gain to make it second down and ten. Ainge dropped back deep in his own end zone to look for an up field receiver. The defensive line of LSU collapsed around Ainge and he was about to get sacked for a safety. Trying to get rid of the ball, Ainge attempted to throw it away and it was picked off by linebacker Ken Hollis and returned three yards for a touchdown.
This made the score 21-0 in favor of the Tigers.
"It was a base coverage," said Hollis. "I saw Cameron(Vaughn) and was about to go hug him. I saw the ball come and I just caught it and ran it in."
That would mark the closing chapter to a Tiger defense performance that held the Ainge to 54 yards on 7-19 passing with one interception.
The ensuing drive prompted Phillip Fulmer to make a change. With 6:55 seconds remaining in the first half, Clausen was given the reins of the UT offense and responded.
From there, the LSU defense collapsed. But not without a brilliant effort by Hollis.
"Clausen did not make that much of a difference to me," said Hollis. "We just made little mistakes, mental mistakes. We just killed ourselves, but it is nothing we can't adjust."
The Alabama native used this game as an announcement for his arrival. He surfaced at LSU in 2003 from East Mississippi Junior College as one of the most sought after linebackers in the country. He saw action in only 11 snaps in 2003.
Last year, he made his move. He earned his first start at the SAM linebacker midway through the year against Florida. He recorded four tackles and never looked back. In 12 games, he started seven times and registered 33 tackles, eight for loss, and three sacks.
Coming into this season, he was prepared to form a good one-two punch with Cameron Vaughn.
Thus far, he has.
On the opening drive for the Vols, the defense responded to the deafening roar of the Tiger faithful. On second and six from their own 28 yard line, Ainge dropped back to pass. He was quickly met by a blitzing Jesse Daniels who sacked him. On the way down, Ainge lost the ball and Hollis instantly recovered it for LSU. That play led to the first score of the game. Joseph Addai ran it in 19 yards on the first play from scrimmage to make the game 7-0 in the Tigers' favor.
"The first play that coach called for was a blitz," said Hollis. "I was just running to the quarterback and the ball was there. I jumped on it trying to make a play."
For the game, Hollis recorded seven assists for 3.5 tackles. He also had the timely fumble recovery and the interception returned for a touchdown.
But even that was only enough to sustain Tennessee in the first half.
"They came out and had the better half than us," said Hollis.
The recurring problem in the second half seems to have been the offsetting way that Clausen ran the offense. His ability to vary the play calling between passing and running kept the defense scrambling for position on every play.
"Sometimes we were supposed to be in base coverage but we would just play the wrong coverage," said Hollis.
This was only the second game of the season and the growing pains are still evident. In the second half, the Tigers defense was on the field for long periods and the effects were obvious. Players formed an assembly line as they were escorted off the field for cramps and dehydration. This resulted in a shuffling off the lineup that saw 16 different players on defense.
Much was said about this, but for Hollis, that is all secondary in importance.
"I did not feel real tired," said Hollis. "I was just ready to play and try to make a play for the defense and the team."
With Mississippi St less than a week away, Hollis and the rest of the crew will have to figure out a way to get on the same page.
Otherwise, Bulldog quarterback Omar Conner could have a Clausen-like day.
Hollis a shining spot on a struggling defense
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