UT cruises to victory

You know things are going well when your offensive coordinator compares your offense to an expensive vehicle.

``You're driving a Bentley,'' Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe told quarterback Erik Ainge during the second half. ``Don't dent it.''

Ainge didn't. He kept it on the roads by completing 17 of 22 passes for 165 yards as the Vols rolled to a 35-14 victory over No. 12 Georgia at Neyland Stadium.

It was Tennessee's most inspiring effort since routing California 35-18 in last season's season opener and it laid to rest – at least for a week – the critics calling for Phillip Fulmer to be fired.

Before the game, his rating in a local survey was 71 percent disapproval.

That figure might look different if taken after the game.

Tennessee did the three things it needed to do to whip Georgia: Run the ball, stop the run and play sound on special teams. And with a 28-0 start, the Vols outscored Georgia 72-9 over four-plus quarters since trailing 24-7 in the first half in Athens a year ago.

Tennessee pounded Georgia for 190 yards with Arian Foster darting through the Bulldogs for 98 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. He scored three touchdowns against Georgia a year ago, giving him six in two games.

``Not bad,'' said a smiling Foster.

Not bad at all.

Foster said a lot of the motivation for UT's play came from negative comments made by fans and media, questioning the team and the coach.

People also question UT's run defense. It had been allowing 188 yards per game. It allowed 69 against Georgia – almost half in the final 10 minutes with the game out of reach. With the Bulldogs unable to run, Tennessee teed off on quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was hurried into a 16 of 33 passing effort for 174 yards

Georgia's Knowshon Moreno and Thomas Brown, who had combined for 165 rushing yards per game, had 50 yards on 19 runs. Brown didn't play in the second half due to a shoulder injury.

``The biggest difference was our kids,'' defensive coordinator John Chavis said. ``We played with more confidence. We didn't make mistakes. We played better against the run game than I envisioned.''

Chavis didn't buy the premise that the Vols stacked up better against a conventional offensive team as opposed to the spread and spread option teams that cut through UT's defense like soft butter.

But a coach on UT's staff told me before the game he felt going against Georgia's I-formation attack would benefit the defense.

No doubt, it did. The defense played so well, Cutcliffe enjoyed watching it from the press box.

``They were absolutely phenomenal,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I could see it pretty good from upstairs.''

Foster could see it pretty good from the sideline.

``I'm happy for those guys,'' Foster said of a unit that entered the game ranked last in the SEC in scoring defense and pass defensive efficiency, 11th in total defense and ninth in run defense. ``Everybody's been riding them all year.''

Tennessee also excelled in special teams. UT's net punting average was 40.2 yards with Britton Colquitt angling away from return ace Mikey Henderson. And Georgia managed only 55 yards on three kick returns with two touchbacks.

Moreover, Tennessee was excellent in short-yardage situations. Rather than line up in the shotgun or go empty backfield, the Vols lined up the Power I and rammed it right at the Bulldogs on several third-and-short situations. Even facing fourth-and-1 at the Georgia 40 with 6 minutes left in the third quarter, Fulmer rolled the dice. Foster pounded for 5 yards and a first down and the Vols answered Georgia's score with a touchdown for a 35-7 lead to seal the deal.

On four plays of third-and-1 or 2, the Vols pounded the rock with success each time. Foster got 9, then 22 yards when he bounced outside for a touchdown. Foster got 8 more on another third-and-2 and Montario Hardesty, healthy again, got 10 on third-and-1.

In short, it was Tennessee football. But it wasn't without some pizazz.

Cutcliffe dipped into his bag of tricks for a reverse pass that he used successfully against Florida a year ago. Ainge handed to Lucas Taylor for an apparent reverse, and Ainge threw to Coker, who was wide open down the left sideline. Last year, it went for 48 yards. This year, it was good for 56, with an assist from an Ainge block.

Cutcliffe said he usually doesn't give two pluses on a play, but he did for Ainge because of his block.

At halftime, Tennessee was in complete control. The Vols led 28-0 and outgained Georgia 291-59.

Georgia coach Mark Richt was asked what message he delivered to his team.

``That's not for public consumption,'' Richt said.

Was he surprised his team, which rushed for 328 yards against Ole Miss last week, had 28 yards on 14 carries in the first half?

Not really,'' Richt said. ``We've got a bunch of puppies up front. We've been faking it.''

Maybe so. But there was no faking Tennessee's performance.

The Vols ran well, stopped the run, passed effectively and were solid in special teams. They also played with confidence and passion.

Fulmer was asked if the way UT played validated his comment after the Florida game that the Vols would stay the course.

After a rambling answer, Fulmer finally blurted out: ``You want me to say, `Stick it up your rear (to the critics)?' I'm not going to do that.''

You just did. And a 21-point win over a No. 12 team did the talking.


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