Vols unleash Coker in win

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge recently noted that LaMarcus Coker could be "our Percy Harvin," referring to Florida's mercurial rushing, receiving and returning threat.

Coker lived up to that billing Saturday night, accounting for 217 all-purpose yards as the Vols dumped Arkansas State 48-27 at Neyland Stadium.

Coker rushed 15 times for 101 yards and a touchdown with a long run of 27 yards. He caught two passes for 49 yards and another touchdown. He returned three kickoffs for 67 yards with a long of 32.

The Vols used him as a tailback. They sent him in motion. They lined him up in the slot. The Indians had trouble finding him and even more trouble catching him, much as Tennessee struggled to find and catch Florida's Harvin a week earlier.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer said Coker had "a fantastic game," adding: "He's a guy that we continue to move around. We have a little package of things, and there's some other things he still can do (that the Vols haven't unveiled yet)."

Coker essentially proved to be the difference in the game. His speed to the outside kept ASU from jamming the middle of the field and his quickness on pass routes produced one touchdown and set up a second.

By putting Coker in the slot, Tennessee occasionally got him matched up with a linebacker.

"He's just so fast … you have to respect his speed," Ainge said. "If you have a linebacker guarding him, that's tough."

After sitting out Tennessee's opener on a disciplinary suspension and having little impact on Games 2 and 3, Coker flashed the form in Game 4 that enabled him to average 6.4 yards per carry as a redshirt freshman in 2006.

"He's fast, he's tough, he's got great vision and great speed," Fulmer said. "He's a dynamic football player. We'll continue to work to get him the ball. He missed three weeks (on the suspension) but he has just about worked himself back into football shape."

And not a moment too soon. After a 1-2 start that included a humiliating loss at Florida, Tennessee was being roasted by its own fan base. Beating Arkansas State won't stop the grumbling but it stopped the bleeding … for now, at least.

"It wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination," Fulmer conceded, "but it sure feels good to win. It sure feels good to be able to run the football better. It sure feels good to be ahead at halftime and it sure feels good to win the game at the end."

Tennessee's offense was impressive, piling up 523 net yards – 188 rushing and 335 passing.

"I thought we played good except for the turnover," Ainge said, referring to an interception he threw that was returned 54 yards for a touchdown by ASU's Tyrell Johnson. "It was just a bad throw."

It was just about the only bad throw Ainge made, however. He completed 27 of 39 for a career-high 334 yards and four touchdowns. Fulmer said the senior QB "played extremely well."

Tennessee's defense finally mounted a pass rush, recording four sacks (two by Robert Ayers) and four hurries. Throwing under duress, Corey Leonard was intercepted by Marsalous Johnson and newly converted wide receiver Brent Vinson.

Vinson's second-quarter pick set up a 40-yard drive that padded the Vol lead to 31-14. Johnson's interception and 28-yard return preceded a 19-yard drive that gave Tennessee a 38-20 fourth-quarter lead. Tackle J.T. Mapu caused and recovered a fumble to thwart a fourth-quarter Arkansas State drive.

"The defensive take-aways obviously were huge in this ball game,' Fulmer said.

Lucas Taylor came up huge, too, catching seven passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow junior Josh Briscoe continued his emergence into a productive receiver with six grabs for 65 yards.

Still, the big weapon on this night was Coker.

"His athletic ability and talent is amazing," Ainge said. "We just need to get him consistent."

With Coker, Taylor and Briscoe emerging, Tennessee finally appears to be developing the weapons needed to stretch the field horizontally and vertically.

"That's definitely something that other teams (on the UT schedule) are going to have to address … if we can get guys with speed on the outside and get them the ball and let ‘em make plays," Ainge said. "I think that's something we did a good job of tonight."

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