Finishing kick

Tennessee's football team finished its first three games of 2006 like an addled prize fighter desperate for the final bell -- dazed, showing no offense and very little defense, holding on for dear life.

Games 1, 2 and 3 saw the Vols allow 35 fourth-quarter points ... one more than they surrendered in the first three periods combined. Meanwhile, they had scored just 10 points in the fourth quarter, compared to 28 in the second quarter and 35 in the third.

Basically, the Big Orange was closing games not with a bang but a whimper.

That disturbing trend changed Saturday evening against Marshall, however. Instead of finishing like an addled prize fighter, the Vols finished like champions. Tennessee outscored the Thundering Herd 17-0 in the final period, turning a tenuous 16-7 lead into a 33-7 triumph.

The statistics underscore the dramatic turnabout. After rushing for 36 yards in the first three quarters, the Vols rushed for 140 in the fourth. They passed for another 35 yards, giving them 175 yards in the period. Maintaining that pace for four quarters would've produced 700 yards of total offense.

And, for the first time all season, UT's defense didn't fade in the fourth quarter. The Vols limited Marshall to 11 rushing yards (on nine carries) and 22 passing yards (on two completions in six attempts).

Head coach Phillip Fulmer conceded on his Sunday teleconference that Vol reserves allowed the Cal Golden Bears to "score some points they probably shouldn't have" in the fourth quarter of Game 1. He conceded that UT had control (31-17) with 5 1/2 minutes left against Air Force in Game 2 only to let the Falcons back in the game. And he conceded that UT's fourth-quarter play in Game 3 vs. Florida was sub-par.

After fading down the stretch in their first three games, though, the Vols were buzzing at the end of Game 4. LaMarcus Coker made an 89-yard touchdown run to start the landslide. James Wilhoit nailed a 49-yard field goal. David Yancey shot through a hole at left guard as Vol reserves tacked on a TD inside the final minute.

"It was great to do that," Fulmer said when asked about the strong finish. "It was great to hear the players talking about it and hear the coaches talking about it. It was great to see the young guys go in and drive it in there for a score. It was a real positive for us."

Fulmer took his foot off the gas pedal in the final quarter of the opener against Cal. He may not be so generous again.

"A few weeks back we ran some plays (in the final minutes) that basically didn't have much chance against Cal, trying not to run the score up," he said. "We weren't trying to run the score up on Marshall but it was important that those young guys got to play and play for real.

"It was also important for us -- from a mindset, I think -- to finish that thing like we had it going. No disrespect to Marshall at all, but we did that for my team."

INJURY NOTE: No. 1 tailback Arian Foster did not play vs. Marshall because of an ankle injury. Reserve guard Ramon Foster, reserve receiver Austin Rogers and reserve defensive end Jared Hostetter also sat out the game due to injuries. At least two of the four could be suited up for this Saturday's game at Memphis.

"I hope to have Arian back and Austin Rogers back," Fulmer said. "Jared Hostetter has a chance to start practice, and Ramon Foster should be a week better with his ankle. None of them played this game but we're hopeful to have them all back soon."

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