Vol win is Taylor-made

A tough, tight football game between Tennessee and Mississippi State Saturday in Starkville ultimately came down to one key: The Vols had Lucas Taylor and the Bulldogs didn't.

Playing the game of his career, Taylor caught 11 passes for 186 yards – including a 51-yard touchdown grab – in propelling Tennessee to a 33-21 victory.

"He had an unbelievable day," head coach Phillip Fullmer said on his post-game show. "Eleven catches for 186 yards and a touchdown, and some really, really crucial plays during the ball game."

Indeed. Taylor caught a 33-yard pass on Tennessee's first touchdown drive, reeled in a 51-yarder to cap its second TD drive, speared a 26-yarder to set up a go-ahead field goal just before halftime and grabbed a 24-yarder to set up a third-quarter field goal.

Erik Ainge, Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty also had productive afternoons for the Volunteers, now 4-2 overall and 2-1 in SEC play. Ainge completed 22 of 36 passes for 259 yards.

"He's just fantastic," Fulmer said. "He has masterfully run the offense ... to get us in good plays. That's the reason we went to the no-huddle – to get more good plays – and he's masterfully managing it."

Foster rushed 21 times for 139 yards and a touchdown. No. 2 tailback LaMarcus Coker suffered a concussion after carrying just twice, but Hardesty came off the bench to contribute 78 yards on 16 carries.

Fulmer called Foster "a heck of a player," adding: "The last two weeks I guess he's been our most valuable player. Montario complements him nicely. Those two guys were just carrying the load."

Both teams were balanced offensively but Tennessee was more productive. The Vols passed for 259 yards and ran for 211, giving them 470 total yards. The Bulldogs passed for 203 and ran for 135, producing 338 total yards.

Freshman Wesley Carroll showed poise in the face of Tennessee's pass rush, completing 18 of 33 passes for 203 yards. Anthony Dixon carried 26 times for 108 yards for the Bulldogs, who slip to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in conference play.

"They made some plays on us," Fulmer said. "Our guys kept fighting, and it ended up being one of those ugly, bloody, who-can-run-the-football-the-best football games that I enjoy being a part of."

A three-yard pass from Ainge to tight end Chris Brown gave Tennessee a quick 7-0 lead but the Bulldogs pulled even on a 38-yard pass from Carroll to Tony Burks. Mississippi State went up 14-7 on a 30-yard Dixon jaunt on the first play of the second quarter but Tennessee took a 17-14 halftime lead thanks to the 51-yard pass from Ainge to Taylor and a 47-yard field goal by Daniel Lincoln.

Tennessee expanded the lead to 24-14 on its first possession of the second half – Foster scoring from a yard out – but Carroll hit Jamayel Smith with a 14-yard strike that narrowed the gap to 24-21. A 29-yard field goal by Lincoln sent the game to the final period with the Vols clinging to a precarious 27-21 lead.

Mississippi State generally dominates the fourth quarter but not this time. The Vols kept the ball 11 minutes of the final period, sealing the outcome on Lincoln field goals of 26 and 43 yards.

"That was huge... to have the ball and be able to get points – even though it was field goals," Fulmer said. "We held them to seven points in the second half, and it was a really great effort."

Especially by Lucas Taylor.

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