Vols hold off Marshall

Freshman receiver Jayson Swain was looking for redemption after dropping a 40-yard touchdown pass on Tennessee's second play of the fourth quarter. Redshirt freshman kicker James Wilhoit was looking for redemption after missing a 47-yard field goal moments later.

Both found it.

Swain made a spectacular 35-yard reception on the Vols' next possession and Wilhoit nailed field goal tries of 42 and 35 yards in the game's final six minutes as the Big Orange held off pesky Marshall 34-24 Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

When Wilhoit missed his first field goal try vs. Marshall, his career record as a collegian stood at a puny 1-for-4. He needed a boost, and he got one.

''The entire team has really been behind me,'' he said. ''I think they understand that we've got to keep each other up, because we're all going to make mistakes. We have to back each other. That's what I like about this team: When the guys trust me and I trust them, we're going to get the job done.''

After missing three of his first four college field goal attempts, however, you had to wonder if Wilhoit's faith in himself might be slipping. If it was, he revitalized it by making the two clutch kicks in the final minutes.

''It was an unbelievable night,'' he said. ''It was tough after missing that 47-yarder but I told myself 'That was just one kick. Let's start over from there and make the rest of them.' On the last two kicks, I really didn't think about it (the earlier miss). I just took my steps and went through the same routine I always do.''

In addition to nailing two field goals, Wilhoit nailed down Tennessee's kickoff duties. A pulled groin muscle limited him to placement attempts in Game 1 and the first half of Game 2. But, after Phillip Newman and Ryan Fusco struggled with their kickoffs in the first half Saturday, Wilhoit got his big chance and promptly produced three touchbacks. He booted his first kickoff through the end zone and put the next two five yards deep and four yards deep.

''My neck's a little sore from people patting me on the helmet,'' Wilhoit quipped, referring to teammates' reaction to his booming kickoffs. ''I started the day kicking field goals and people are questioning me, then -- all of a sudden -- you make two big field goals and you're the kickoff guy.

''It's been a big change.''

Swain underwent a big change Saturday, as well. After scarcely playing in Game 1, he proved to be a big factor in Game 2. In addition to his clutch 35-yard catch in the fourth quarter, he also had a big catch in the third quarter. On third-and-10 at the Vol 37-yard line, he turned a short crossing pattern into a 14-yard gain that fueled an 80-yard TD drive that widened Tennessee's lead to 28-17.

''Me and Casey have been getting real close over the summer,'' Swain said. ''It was just waiting for him to have confidence in me and me proving that confidence. The plays today really helped for the road ahead.''

Swain thought he caught the pass ruled incomplete in the end zone, suggesting that he lost the ball only after hitting the ground.

''I guess I landed wrong,'' he said, ''but I thought I caught it.''

So did Tennessee's fans, who booed the officials for several minutes following the ruling.

''I'm always going to agree with the fans,'' Swain quipped. ''If I thought I hadn't caught the ball, I would've slapping myself and that kind of thing.''

Regardless, Swain left no room for debate on his next opportunity. He made a twisting, leaping catch later in the quarter that moved the football from Tennessee's 41-yard line to the Marshall 25, setting up Wilhoit's first field goal.

''We noticed that Marshall's cornerbacks are kinda short,'' he said. ''Casey just threw it up there, and I made a big play.''

As things turned out, Tennessee made just enough big plays to win. The Vols got another big game from Cedric Houston (160 yards on 26 carries). Jabari Davis chipped in 61 yards on eight carries as the Vols piled up 223 rushing yards on 40 attempts. Casey Clausen had a big day, too, completing 21 of 33 passes for 235 yards with touchdown tosses to James Banks (24 yards), Tony Brown (27 yards) and Troy Fleming (3 yards).

UT converted 11 of 18 third-down attempts and finished with 458 total yards but hurt itself with 12 penalties for 118 yards.

Marshall managed just 88 rushing yards on 31 attempts but found success through the air. Stan Hill completed 16 of 24 passes for 242 yards and three TDs before suffering a leg injury that sent him to the bench in the fourth quarter. Backup Graham Gochneaur completed 7 of 10 for 52 yards. Marshall finished with 382 total yards.

Tennessee trailed 10-7 with 38 seconds left in the first half but scored touchdowns on its next three possessions to take a 28-17 lead. Marshall closed to 28-24 at the end of three quarters but Swain and Wilhoit helped the homestanding Vols pull away down the stretch.

The Vols, now 2-0, were pushed hard but ultimately avoided Marshall's ambush.

''There were two or three upsets today, and I'm just glad we're not one of them,'' UT head coach Phillip Fulmer said. ''I've got to tip my hat to Coach (Bob) Pruett and Marshall. They kept us on our heels.''

Meanwhile, the Mid-American Conference officiating crew kept the Vol coach on edge, although he deftly avoided directly criticizing it.

''We should not play a team from the MAC and bring THEIR officials down here,'' Fulmer said. ''I'm not saying they did a bad job; I'm just saying we shouldn't do that.''

After an open date this week, Tennessee visits Florida Sept. 20.


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