Arian shoulders the blame

TAMPA – It's not often that one play can change the entire complexion of a football game. But that's exactly what happened here on a rainy Monday at the Outback Bowl. And it came on the only snap Tennessee took inside the Penn State 27-yard line.

After a 53-yard completion from Erik Ainge to Chris Brown put the Vols in position to snap a 10-10 fourth-quarter tie, Arian Foster fumbled at the 14. Penn State cornerback Tony Davis snatched up the loose ball and sprinted 88 yards in front of the Tennessee sideline.

Just like that, the momentum Tennessee had gained was gone.

Just like that Tennessee, trailed 17-10.

And just like that, the Vols were on their way to another bowl defeat at the hands of the Nittany Lions. This time, it was 20-10.

Penn State has now won three straight bowl games over Tennessee. And this time, the Big Ten power did it with 80-year-old coach Joe Paterno watching from the press box, still nursing a broken leg suffered Nov. 4.

Tennessee had its chances, but the Vols didn't play fast on offense. Maybe a wet, sand-based field slowed them down. Or maybe it was just a tenacious, always-in-the-right-spot Penn State defense that did in UT.

Tennessee did a decent job moving the ball between the 30s. The Vols finished with 350 total yards, with 101 by running backs Foster and LaMarcus Coker, who had a dazzling 42-yard touchdown run in the first half. And at one point, Ainge was 21 of 26 passing.

After a blocked field goal by UT, the Vols' struck with a 53-yard pass from Ainge to tight end Chris Brown, who found himself wide open down the right side. It marked the first time UT penetrated the PSU 20. Prosperity didn't last long. Foster fumbled the next snap, and Davis turned the miscues into a 17-10 Penn State lead with 10:01 left.

``I proved to be the difference maker in the game,'' said Foster, who rushed for a team-high 65 yards on 12 carries. ``It hurts. I feel like I let the team and the coaching staff and everybody that came on this trip own. I put in on my shoulders. It will be a chip on my shoulders for next year.''

Foster was headed for a short gain when linebacker Sean Lee poked the ball out as Foster was falling.

``The whole play was a blur,'' Foster said, unable to recall what happened. ``My first instinct was, I felt like I was down.''

Replays showed the ball tumbling out moments before Foster's knee hit the ground. Foster waited about two agonizing minutes before officials confirmed the call.

The play deflated the UT offense. And that angered offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. After the fumble, UT had a woeful looking three-and-out series, enabling PSU to drive downfield for a clinching field goal.

``I was really irritated about that,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I thought that put the nail in the coffin.

``At that point in time, you respond. That's what we've done this year. When we didn't respond, I was perturbed.''

And Penn State was on its way to a 22nd bowl victory under Paterno, a record for a coach.

The Nittany Lions were able to run effectively against a UT defense that has had trouble stopping the run all year. Tony Hunt, who averaged just over 100 yards on the season, recorded his eighth 100-yard game, churning out 158 yards on 31 carries to move into No. 2 on the school's all-time list.

``I told you guys when I came here that was my biggest concern,'' UT coach Phillip Fulmer said. ``We didn't do a good job stopping the run. I think he's an underrated back based on his accolades.''

Quarterback Anthony Morelli was also underrated, based on his play. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 197 yards on perhaps his best game of the season against a quality opponent. e made several He He made several nice throws in the direction of UT cornerback Antwan Stewart, who was an obvious target of the PSU passing game.

``They were throwing in my direction,'' Stewart said. ``Football is a game of inches and you've gotta make plays when you're supposed to make them. I didn't play well. I don't shoot just to tackle somebody. I want to make a play on the ball and I didn't.''

Tennessee's team didn't make enough plays. The Vols did turn in five gains of at least 20 yards, but kept shooting themselves in the foot at inopportune times.

The offense wasn't in sync early. The first possession featured a fumble and a drop. The second a miscommunication on a pass play. The third had a fair catch at the UT 4 and a fumble on a reverse that set up a PSU field goal. The fourth had a 6-yard loss on a trick play and a false start that stopped a drive.

``When things went bad, we didn't react as an offense,'' Ainge said. ``We had dropped balls, bad throws, poor protection, costly penalties. That's tough to overcome against a defense like that.''

UT was able to overcome late deficits against four SEC teams. But when the chips were down against the Nittany Lions, the Vols faltered and finished 9-4, one game shy of the stated goal entering the Outback Bowl.

``These games last a long time,'' Cutcliffe said of losing a bowl. ``It's a taste in our mouth that maybe needs to be there. Maybe this is a dose of reality. When we look to the offseason, we better be hungry to come back to work. That's the approach we've got to take.''


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