Coker breaks loose in win

He wasn't good enough to carry the ball in Games 2 and 3 but he was good enough to rush for nearly 150 yards in Game 4 as Tennessee pulled away late to beat Marshall 33-7 Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

Speedy reserve tailback LaMarcus Coker carried eight times for 146 yards, including a back-breaking 89-yard touchdown burst in the fourth quarter, as the Vols turned a rain-drenched evening into a happy Homecoming.

Coker's electrifying run stands as the third-longest in school history. The longest was a 99-yarder by Kelsey Finch vs. Florida in 1977. The runnerup was a 91-yarder by Dick Dodson vs. Transylvania in 1927.

"Basically, I was just happy to be out there getting a chance," said Coker, a 5-11, 205-pound redshirt freshman from Antioch. "I just wanted to help the team out. I waited on my opportunity and I'm glad I was able to take advantage of it."

Quarterback Erik Ainge checked to the touchdown play, and Coker did the rest.

"It was Erik's call," Coker said. "He made a great call, and it was off to the races."

Tennessee led just 16-7 through three quarters as Marshall played "keep-away" with a ball-control offense that limited the Vols to a mere six offensive snaps in the third period.

With roughly 13 minutes to play, though, Coker took Ainge's handoff and headed for right guard. He cut sharply to his left through a gaping hole, then bounced outside and simply outran the pursuit down the east sidelines to complete the 89-yard play.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer called Coker's dramatic run "huge," adding: "Once he broke contain, you almost knew he was going to be able to outrun the safety."

Coker carried 11 times for 53 yards in Game 1 vs. California but got just one touch the next two games - catching a 48-yard touchdown pass in Game 3 vs. Florida.

Fulmer conceded that Coker "certainly gave us a lift," later noting that "LaMarcus has done well every time he's gotten an opportunity."

Asked why the talented speedster hadn't gotten more opportunities, Fulmer replied: "Mostly because he's still learning how to practice. He's getting much better at those kind of things. And we've had two pretty darned good tailbacks in front of him."

One of those tailbacks, Arian Foster, has been slowed by an ankle injury. He carried just twice for two yards in Game 3 vs. Florida and did not play at all vs. Marshall. The other tailback, Montario Hardesty, carried 17 times for 14 yards vs. Florida and eight times for 21 yards vs. Marshall.

Coker admitted it was "tough to sit and watch when you want to play but, at the same time, Arian and Montario were getting the job done, so you have to keep cheering 'em on, wait till my chance comes."

Ainge, who completed 18 of 27 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown, thought the Vols' success throwing the ball helped open up the run game. Tennessee ran for 140 yards in the fourth period after gaining just 36 in the first three periods combined.

"I think our ability to throw the ball and make a couple of big plays helped it (ground game) all night long," Ainge said. "Obviously, the offensive line opened up some great holes but LaMarcus outran two safeties with pursuit angles, and that was amazing.

"You've got to give credit where it's due. That's the offensive line and LaMarcus' lower body."

Vol place-kicker James Wilhoit missed a 42-yard field goal in the first quarter, snapping a string of 11 successes in a row. Tennessee scored a safety moments later, however, when Xavier Mitchell and Matt McGlothlin combined to sack Marshall quarterback Bernard Morris.

Tennessee then marched 72 yards with the ensuing free kick to go up 9-0. The touchdown came with Marshall crowding the line on third-and-one. Ainge faked a handoff to Hardesty, then lofted a 41-yard TD strike to Jayson Swain.

Marshall closed to 9-7 when Morris scored on a one-yard second-quarter plunge to cap a 13-play, 92-yard drive aided by two late-hit penalties on Vol defenders.

Tennessee answered with a six-play, 59-yard drive featuring a 22-yard pass to Bret Smith, a 20-yard pass that tipped off Smith's fingers and into the waiting arms of Swain and a 20-yard scoring jaunt by Hardesty.

After a scoreless third period, Coker gave the Vols some breathing room with his big run, then Wilhoit sealed the win with a 49-yard field goal that padded the lead to 26-7 with 5:24 to play. David Yancey scored on a nifty five-yard run with 23 seconds left to secure the final margin.

Tennessee, now 3-1, plays its first road game of 2006 Saturday at Memphis. The game is scheduled for an 11 a.m. CST start.

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