UT makes progress, still loses

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Had the Tennessee football team not been thought of so highly across the country in preseason, the progress it is making here and there on offense after six games would now be getting more attention than the ongoing problems with lack of point production, turnovers and penalites.

The No. 3 team in the nation doesn't make those kind of mistakes with the kind of consistency shown by the Volunteers, which is why they are No. 17 in reality and will drop again in the polls this week following a 6-3 loss to No. 5, and still unbeaten, Alabama.

Tennessee still isn't close to scoring at will against anybody, but the Vols' running game did have a solid performance against the Crimson Tide, totaling 109 yards rushing on 35 attempts. Although starting tailback Gerald Riggs suffered an ankle injury late in the contest, he combined with backup Arian Foster for 121 net yards, and Foster, a freshman, had a better outing than Riggs through three quarters.

"Arian did very well," UT head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He's growing up as a back and he'll help us continue to grow as a running football team."

Tennessee's ground attack was a point of emphasis over the past two weeks, with recognition that Alabama would provide one of the better run-stop defenses the Vols will face this season.

"I thought our fullbacks played better and we dedicated ourselves to getting it done," Fulmer said. "There must have been some good things going on up front to be able to move the ball the way we did against a good Alabama defensive front."

Foster said he has remained focused during competition to become the backup for Riggs and waited for each opportunity to try and prove himself.

"I work hard every day. I expect everything of myself," said Foster, who carried 14 times for 53 yards, contributing to several third-down conversions. "I think as the weeks go by, I've gained confidence, and we have the guys up front and fullbacks who can do that. Everybody was doing his job."

Another bright light for the Volunteers was freshman Lucas Taylor, who returned four punts for 31 yards and three kickoffs for 74 yards, including a 41-yard gem. His ability to follow blockers and make cuts helped the Vols establish superior field position on several occasions, although the offense capitalized only once, with James Wilhoit's 32-yard field goal.

Taylor continued to make positive contributions on special teams despite a crucial fumble that led to Alabama's first field goal and a 3-0 lead as the third quarter came to a close, a sign of maturity, Fulmer said.

"Lucas is going to be a great football player," Fulmer added. "He's been nicked up a little with a shoulder injury, but he's going to help us on special teams and with the passing game -- when we get a passing game."

Quarterback Rick Clausen guided the Vols for all but one three-and-out series and the final play of the game, completing 11 passes on 17 attempts for 144 yards. It was a solid performance, but turnovers and penalties again stalled offensive momentum.

"We moved the football," Clausen said. "The goal was to run the football, but we beat ourselves and that was it. "When you turn it over twice inside the 10-yard line, you're going to lose."

Defensive players also saw improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Linebacker Kevin Simon said his unit sustained its admirable effort throughout the game because the offense controlled the ball more than in previous contests.

"They did a good job of controlling the clock and keeping us energized," Simon said.

Tennessee's defense kept pressure on Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle, recording five sacks in what may have been the best showing so far in an impressive season to date.

"It's tough to know that there might be 70 plays in a game and we did the job on 69 of them and it was the one play that got us," said Simon, referring to the Croyle to D.J. Hall pass that netted 43 yards and put the Tide in position for a game-winning field goal.

"It was a tough, physical ballgame, one of the greatest games I've been part of," he said. "They had one big play on offense and we didn't have any, and that's what it came down to."


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