Vols subdue pesky MTSU

Tennessee's defense generally stopped Middle Tennessee State's offense and Tennessee's offense generally stopped itself.

That pretty well sums up the fourth-ranked Vols' lackluster 26-3 defeat of the Blue Raiders Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee's offense scored two first-quarter touchdowns, then essentially took the rest of the evening off. A missed field goal, a blocked field goal, two lost fumbles and an uncharacteristic rash of penalties -- 11 for 97 yards -- combined to keep the Vols from putting away the pesky visitors from Murfreesboro.

''Most of the game they didn't stop us; we stopped ourselves,'' quarterback Casey Clausen said. ''We had about three penalties inside the 5-yard line that killed drives. Overall, we've got to take care of the ball a little bit better.''

The evening began on an ominous note for Tennessee, as placekicker Alex Walls pulled a quadricep muscle during pregame warmups and could not perform. Backup Phillip Newman filled in reasonably well -- nailing a field goal that widened the lead to 17-0 early in the second period and booming his kickoffs deep into the end zone. But Newman twice failed to extend the lead in the third quarter -- missing a 38-yard field goal try and having a 42-yarder blocked.

Middle finally scored on a 45-yard Brian Kelley field goal with 14:19 left. At this point the Vol defense took the offensive, scoring the game's final nine points.

Reserve linebacker Jason Mitchell started the roll by blocking a punt through the MTSU end zone for a safety. Minutes later, Jabari Greer hit MTSU quarterback Andrico Hines on a cornerback blitz, forcing a fumble that linebacker Kevin Simon recovered for a touchdown.

Whereas Tennessee's defense had a big finish, Tennessee's offense enjoyed a big start. Clausen hit tight end Jason with a 40-yard pass on the Vols' first offensive snap, and tailback Cedric Houston rambled 15 yards three plays later to cap a four-play 69-yard TD drive that required just 1:03.

An interception thwarted Tennessee's next possession but the Vols tacked on another touchdown on possession No. 3, marching 53 yards in 11 plays. A fourth-and-one gamble on the MTSU 10-yard line paid dividends as Clausen found Witten over the middle for the TD and a 14-0 lead with five seconds left in the first quarter.

Newman's 35-yard field goal with 10:14 left in the half gave UT two touchdowns and a field goal out of its first four possessions, but the attack unit would not score again.

''Offensively, we played pretty well at times,'' Fulmer said. ''But we were our own worst enemy with penalties.''

Clausen completed 24 of 29 passes for 263 yards but was sacked twice and lost a fumble without being hit. Tony Brown led UT in catches for the second game in a row (8 for 75 yards). Montrell Jones began to emerge as a complementary receiver, catching four balls for 47 yards. Witten finished with three grabs for 55 yards and Leonard Scott three for 26.

Cedric Houston had another productive evening running the ball, leading all rushers with 74 yards on 13 carries. Jabari Davis added 39 on seven carries.

MTSU Heisman hopeful Dwone Hicks netted just 33 yards on 17 rushes ... less than two yards per carry. His best gain covered a mere eight yards as Tennessee swarmed him every time he touched the football. Running mate ReShard Lee, who had a productive game at Alabama a week earlier, carried just one time for three yards.

The Blue Raiders would've mounted no offense at all if not for quarterback Andrico Hines. He led his team in rushing (19 for 63 yards) and also completed 13 of 23 passes for 109 yards.

It was two fumbles by Hines, however, that may have cost MTSU any shot it had at victory. The first occurred at MTSU's 36-yard line and set up the field goal that widened Tennessee's lead to 17-0. The next fumble was even more damaging. MTSU moved to a second-and-goal at the Vol 2-yard line when Hines fumbled as he pulled away from center. Tennessee defensive tackle Rashad Moore recovered.

Clausen fumbled the ball back to the Blue Raiders at the Vol 46-yard line moments later but the Big Orange dodged another bullet. A 33-yard pass from Hines to Tyrone Calico was ruled to have been beyond the sidelines, although slow-motion replays showed Calico actually got BOTH feet in-bounds. That officiating miscue cost Middle a first-and-goal at the Vol 1-yard line and probably a touchdown. Hines scrambled to the UT 15-yard line on the final play of the half but MTSU had no timeouts left and was unable to set up a field goal.

Tennessee marched to the MTSU 10-yard line on its first drive of the third quarter. A 15-yard personal foul penalty moved the ball back to the 25, however, and Newman eventually missed a field goal.

Tennessee advanced to the MTSU 4-yard line on its next possession but a holding call cost 10 yards. After Jabari Davis dropped a swing pass and Clausen was sacked for a 10-yard loss, Newman's field goal attempt was blocked.

Simon, making his first career start in place of injured linebacker Kevin Burnett, led the Vols with nine tackles (two for minus yardage) and the fumble recovery for touchdown. Fellow linebacker Keyon Whiteside weighed in with six stops (one for minus yardage), a half a sack and a pass breakup.

The Vols, now 2-0, have an open date this week before hosting Florida (a 41-16 loser to Miami) Sept. 21. Star receiver Kelley Washington is expected to see his first action of the season that day. The UT staff is hopeful that placekicker Walls will be back in gear by then, as well.

''We've got two weeks to get ready for what obviously is a huge football game,'' Fulmer said. ''It's a chance to get well and work on some things we've got to work on from the standpoint of our discipline, our alignments and a lot of fundamental things.''

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