Vols win ugly, beat Duke 23-6

Moments after two fourth-quarter touchdowns had given Tennessee a characteristically ugly 23-6 win over 26-point underdog Duke, Vol linebacker Kevin Burnett strolled into the interview room at Neyland Stadium and beamed, ''We just have to make it exciting, don't we?''

Actually, the term ''exciting'' didn't quite fit this game. What the Vols do is make most of their games uncomfortably close ... routinely playing sloppily until the fourth quarter, then making just enough plays to win.

That was the script again this time. James Wilhoit field goals of 45, 38 and 29 yards gave the Vols a 9-6 lead entering the final period. It wasn't until Casey Clausen and Chris Hannon hooked up on a nine-yard touchdown pass with 11:10 remaining that Tennessee had a double-digit lead (16-6).

''Initially, it was a running play,'' Hannon explained afterward. ''Casey saw something in the middle (of the secondary) and checked off. At the beginning of the season, Casey told me I'm 6-4 and one of the fastest guys out there, so when he throws the ball up in the air, I should go get it. So, when the ball was in the air, I went to go get it.''

Hannon's catch capped a 37-yard drive which was set up when Troy Fleming stripped Duke's Jamin Pastore on a punt return and Vol teammate Corey Larkins recovered.

Tennessee finally salted away the game with 4:20 to go -- this time scoring on a 12-yard burst up the middle by little-used tailback Gerald Riggs, Jr. The big play of that drive had been a 42-yard strike from Clausen to James Banks.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer said he felt all along that Duke would be a ''dangerous game'' because the Blue Devils caught Tennessee one week after a physically and emotionally taxing five-overtime win at Alabama and one week before a big game at No. 2 Miami.

Fulmer loves the running game but he conceded that Tennessee's gameplan was to ''throw the ball around. They (Blue Devils) did a good job of stopping the run (one week earlier) versus North Carolina State but had trouble stopping the pass. Sometimes we threw the ball well ... sometimes not so well.''

Clausen finished 16 of 27 for 208 yards and a touchdown. His top targets were Tony Brown (four catches for 68 yards), Banks (two for 47), Mark Jones (two for 32) and C.J. Fayton (two for 21).

Jabari Davis, subbing for the injured Cedric Houston, led the ground with 113 yards on 17 carries. As in an earlier game at Florida, the ''J-Train'' seemed particularly effective in the fourth quarter, when he carried three times for 29 yards.

Asked to explain his late-game success, Davis replied, ''I think it's pretty much my style. I'm a big back, pretty hard to bring down. As the game goes on, people (on defense) get tired. In the first half, I may run right over 'em. With my size and speed, when it comes to the third or fourth quarter, teams are tired of hitting me, so I'm able to break some tackles and make some longer runs.''

Riggs finally showed a glimpse of the skills that made him a prep All-American two years ago. He finished with 31 yards and a touchdown on five carries.

Linebacker Kevin Simon paced the defense with 8 solo tackles and one assist. Safety Gibril Wilson chipped in 6 solos and 3 assists. Freshman Corey Campbell, making his first career start at safety in the absence of Rashad Baker, recorded 7 solos and an assist. End Parys Haralson contributed 6 solos and 1 assist, with 2 tackles for loss. Tackle Mondre Dickerson had perhaps his best game to date, recording 5 solos, 1 assist, a sack and a pass breakup.

Punter Dustin Colquitt was brilliant, averaging 49 yards on five punts with a long of 64 and three punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

On the down side, Tennessee was guilty of nine penalties for 98 yards and kept the ball for just 25:55 to Duke's 34:05.

Fulmer thought Tennessee's struggles on offense were more a credit to Duke's defense than an indictment of the Vol attack.

''They (Blue Devils) had a really good plan,'' he said. ''They did a good job mixing it up. And we just didn't make the play several times. We had a hand on several balls but could've made a big difference.''

Duke also ran the ball effectively against Tennessee -- as did South Carolina, Auburn, Georgia and Alabama in recent weeks. Blue Devil tailback Chris Douglas finished with 128 yards on 29 carries. Fulmer admitted that UT's rushing defense is a conern for defensive coordinator John Chavis.

''I know Coach Chavis is upset about the rushing yards (Duke had 180 on 48 carries),'' Fulmer said. ''We've got to address that. The last several weeks it's really been a problem.''

Although Tennessee has not played a complete game all year, the Big Orange is tied for the lead in the SEC East. Thanks to Florida's upset of Georgia on Saturday, the Gators, Bulldogs and Vols have two losses each heading into the homestretch.

Fulmer conceded that ''got some help today, with Florida winning.''

Burnett said the Gator victory ''gives us an emotional boost.''

The Vols wouldn't need an emotional boost if they'd start playing the first three quarters the way they generally play the fourth period each week. Burnett acknowledged that ''We have to go for the knockout from the first play of the game. We have to find that killer instinct soon or it's going to bite us in the behind.''

With a visit to second-ranked Miami next on the schedule, the Vols' behinds appear to be in real peril.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories