Dawgs throttle Vols, 41-14

If ever a football game turned on one play, it was Saturday night's Tennessee-Georgia showdown at Neyland Stadium.

Down 13-7, the Vols faced a third-and-goal at the Bulldog 1-foot line with 7 seconds left till halftime. Assuming the Big Orange could pick up 12 inches on their next play, they'd go to intermission with a 14-13 lead and plenty of momentum.

Quarterback Casey Clausen was supposed to fake a handoff to fullback Troy Fleming, then give the ball to tailback Jabari Davis on a dive play. Alas, Fleming bumped into Clausen's shoulder as he went past, causing Clausen to lose the football. Georgia's Sean Jones picked up the bouncing ball at Tennessee's 8-yard line and sped 92 yards for a touchdown that widened the gap to 20-7, quieted the crowd and sucked the life right out of the Big Orange.

The shell-shocked Vols never recovered, getting outscored 21-0 in the third quarter en route to a 41-14 shellacking.

Asked who was to blame on the tide-turning fumble, UT offensive coordinator Randy Sanders shrugged.

''I have a hard time believing Casey was over too far,'' he said, ''but I would have a hard time believing that the fullback was too tight.''

Following the debacle, Tennessee head man Phillip Fulmer pronounced himself ''very, very disappointed,'' and said he'd like to ''apologize to the fans.''

Although he conceded that ''the play at the half certainly swung the momentum,'' Fulmer said he thought the Vols would score on their opening possession of the second half, narrowing the deficit to 20-14 and getting back in the game.

It didn't happen, though. The clearly deflated Vols surrendered a 14-play, 83-yard drive that put Georgia ahead 27-7. Clausen then threw interceptions on back-to-back passes -- each of which the Dawgs parlayed into touchdowns -- as the lead swelled to 41-7.

Tennessee tacked on a relatively meaningless touchdown in the final minute, backup QB C.J. Leak hitting freshman Bret Smith with a 15-yard strike on a post pattern to secure the final margin of 41-14.

Tennessee (4-2 overall, 1-2 in SEC play) has now lost two games in a row overall and four in succession to Georgia.

''This is a good time for soul-searching, evaluating where we are and what we want to do,'' Fulmer said. ''I don't think there's a phase (of play) that we won for the evening.''

He got that right. Georgia outrushed Tennessee 186 yards to 61 and outpassed the Vols 228 to 187. The Dawgs won the time of possession battle 36:19 to 23:41, won the turnover battle 4 to 1 and converted 7 of 17 third-down tries to UT's 1 of 11.

''Obviously, we've got some work to do to get things turned around,'' Fulmer said.

Tennessee blew the game in the final 30 seconds of the first half. With a first-and-goal at Georgia's 3-yard line, Cedric Houston ran for two yards. Clausen was supposed to spike the ball at this point, stopping the clock and leaving UT with one timeout and two downs to score. Instead, Clausen ran a quarterback sneak that gained nothing, then had to call the Vols' final timeout of the half. Fulmer said his senior quarterback thought he saw a signal from the sideline to run the sneak. Regardless, that miscommunication proved costly. The very next play was the ill-fated fumble that turned the game Georgia's way for good.

''That's a play we've scored a lot of touchdowns on,'' Fulmer said of the play on which Clausen and Fleming collided. ''I thought we'd get a good push upfront and score on it again.''

Instead, the fluke ending to the first half killed Tennessee's momentum and its enthusiasm. The Vols were a beaten bunch in the locker room at halftime. Even Fulmer noted that his players were ''torched'' by the 14-point swing.

The only real highlight for Tennessee was a pass from Clausen to Mark Jones, who literally ripped the ball away from Georgia's DeCori Bryant and sped 50 yards to complete a 90-yard touchdown play that briefly pulled the Vols within 10-7 in the second quarter.

Fulmer called Jones' catch ''one of best plays I've seen in football.''

Greene was brilliant for Georgia, completing 22 of 27 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown. Clausen was not so fortunate, completing just 11 of 23 for 165 yards with one touchdown, two costly interceptions and an even costlier fumble. Tailback Cedric Houston also lost a fumble which gave Georgia a first-quarter field goal. Thus, 24 of Georgia's points came off Vol turnovers.

Tennessee's gameplan was to establish some success running the football, then go to its play-action passing game. Once the Vols fell behind 27-7, however, that plan had no chance to work.

''When you get behind, they aren't biting on too many play-action fakes,'' Fulmer noted.

Once the deficit forced Tennessee into a pass-oriented mode, Georgia defensive end David Pollack showed why he's the defending SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He hit Clausen as he threw, causing the first third-quarter interception, and later sacked the Vol QB on the final play of the quarter.

''He's a great football player,'' Fulmer said of Pollack. ''He disrupted our offense a lot.''

Sanders thought Pollack was particularly disruptive once Georgia built a comfortable lead and forced the Vols to throw on almost every down.

''We tried to do like we did last week (in a 355-yard passing effort vs. Auburn),'' the coordinator noted, ''but we couldn't block David Pollack. He basically took over the game at that point.''

Understandably discouraged, Sanders conceded that Saturday's outing was the most disappointing performance by his troops in memory.

''I don't think there's any doubt about that,'' he said. ''It's the most disappointing when we've been fairly healthy and had our people out there. We couldn't run it, we didn't block very well, we didn't throw it very well, we didn't catch it very well and we didn't pass-protect very well. It was one of those games you hope you never have ... and we had tonight.''

With an open date this week, then six games left on the schedule, Fulmer said the Vols must establish new goals and pull together.

''We need to become a better football team, period,'' he said. ''We need to put our best foot forward. We're playing a lot for pride right now and to improve our football team. We're looking for our pride and focus to be back where they were. I thought we were on a really good track earlier this season.''

Now, however, the Vols appear to be on the road to oblivion. Deflated or not, they played a horrendous second half.

''When I see the film, I'm sure there'll be a million things to correct,'' Fulmer said.

One thing the head man is determined to correct is Tennessee's attitude. He felt the visiting Bulldogs carried the fight to the Vols much of the evening.

''Georgia played with passion,'' he said. ''We didn't ... enough.''

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