Tigers topple Vols 28-21

AUBURN -- There would be no saving Hail Marys this time. The Tennessee Volunteers went to Auburn on Saturday night to test themselves against one of the best running games and the No. 2-ranked defense in the country but came away lacking on both sides of the ball and with their first loss of the season, 28-21.

The Vols (4-1, 2-1) could not contain Auburn's rushing attack, led by Carnell Williams, who rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries. Backup tailbacks Ronnie Brown, Brandon Jacobs and Tre Smith added some yardage of their own to boost the total to 264 yards. Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell, who was criticized for his lack of skills in the team's back-to-back opening losses, helped the Tigers (3-2, 2-0) keep momentum by completing 11 of 18 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee offense struggled to move the football until head coach Phillip Fulmer did something he hates to do -- give up on the run in favor of the pass.

With senior quarterback Casey Clausen being max-protected in the final quarter of the game, the Vols passed their way back from a 28-7 deficit into a situation where one more successful drive would have sent the contest into overtime.

But Auburn's defense, which floundered trying to cover UT's young receivers, reasserted itself when Carlos Rogers picked off a Clausen pass in the flat with the score 28-21, the Vols at the Tiger 29-yard line and 58 seconds left on the clock.

Clausen closed out the night 30 of 47 for 355 yards and two touchdowns, making it one of the more impressive performances of his career. The Vols rushed for a total of only 4 yards in the game, however, the lowest in the Phillip Fulmer era.

"Obviously, this is not what we wanted," Fulmer said. "Auburn came ready to play tonight and they played well. We knew that they would run the ball. They rushed better, obviously, than we had prepared for.

"I'm proud of our football team, but we can't spot 14 points (in the first quarter) and expect to win, especially in the opponent's house."

Fulmer said he was disappointed that the Vols couldn't run the football but was pleased that his players did not give up.

"We never got in sync tonight," he said. "We worked well all week, and I thought we were prepared. We made too many mistakes, had too many penalties. In the end, we were too nice to Auburn and they took advantage of it."

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was clearly relieved that his team escaped with a win after the Vols' ferocious comeback.

"We still have a lot of work to do," he said. "The biggest thing right now is our guys are getting confidence to play and win these kind of games. "Our offensive line dominated in the first half. We've got a long way to go, but this is a good starting point."

Both teams have tough contests just ahead, with Tennessee hosting Georgia for a chance to regain the lead in the SEC East, and Auburn up against Arkansas.

While the Vols never got untracked offensively in the first half, Auburn marched easily through the UT defense to take a 14-0 lead in what appeared to be a rout in the making. But then the Tigers committed a couple of costly errors on ensuing drives and could never put the nail in the Vols' coffin. When Auburn rediscovered its scoring punch in the second half, the Tigers took a 28-7 lead and appeared to put their defense on cruise control. It was a big mistake.

Tennessee went to the air to nine different receivers in the game, including three running backs, but it was Chris Hannon who had a breakout night, hauling in five Clausen passes for a team-leading 95 yards and one TD.

"We knew it was going to be tough coming back," Clausen said of the recovery, "but we never gave up. I was proud of the team at the end of the game. The biggest thing I told them was it was a four-quarter game, and I told them to stay in the game."

Tailback Cedric Houston said the Vols couldn't make the running game work and by the time they did, it was too late to come back without airing it out. "We had a terrible start," he said. "We had to throw the ball because we got down so quick."

UT linebacker Robert Peace was surprised at the Tigers' size and strength on offense.

"They were bigger and more physical than us tonight. We just have to spend the rest of the season taking care of business. If we do that, we could have a rematch (in the SEC Championship game)," Peace said.

The Tigers' Williams said he his line paved the way for his success on the night. "Our offensive line protected for me great and they opened up a lot of holes," he said. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have had a great night."

Campbell was encouraged by the win, not only because it proved Auburn can compete with Top 10 teams but because his own performance lived up to his expectations.

"I've been working hard to prove I can compete with the top quarterbacks in the nation," he said. "Tonight I proved that and my wide receivers made great catches for me. Hopefully, we can keep working hard and get all the credit we deserve."

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