Flags drop but Vols don't

Sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad. Tennessee's 33-21 defeat of Mississippi State is a perfect example.

The good: Tennessee rallied from a 14-7 deficit to outscore the Bulldogs 26-7 over the game's final 44 minutes. In doing so, the Vols proved they can (a) come from behind, (b) win a game on the road and (c) prevail without playing their best.

The bad: A Tennessee team that led the SEC in both fewest penalties and fewest penalty yards entering the weekend was flagged a season-high seven times for 72 yards on Saturday. As a result, the Vols dropped to fourth in penalty yards. By comparison, Mississippi State was penalized just twice for 14 yards.

Although the rash of penalties was unexpected, head coach Phillip Fulmer said on his Sunday teleconference that it was "not a big concern. If it costs you a game it gets to be."

One penalty shortly before halftime may have cost Tennessee a touchdown. An illegal-block-in-the-back call against Antonio Wardlow negated a 35-yard punt return by Jonathan Hefney. Instead of getting the ball at the MSU 27-yard line, the Vols had the ball at their own 44-yard line, ultimately settling for a field goal.

Fulmer said two of the calls that went against his team were what he called "aggressive penalties." He described another, an interference call against Brent Vinson, as "really gray ... not that I'm criticizing the official."

Of the seven penalties, Fulmer said the "one I didn't like much" was a false start by tight end Cottam that negated a five-yard gain, leaving the Vols with a first-and-15 instead of second-and-five."

Except for the penalties and a few missed tackles, Tennessee gave a fairly solid accounting of itself Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium. That was encouraging, since the Vols face another tough SEC road game this Saturday at Alabama.

"To play well on the road was a plus," Fulmer noted. "We played well at times in the other road game (California) but it was good to play consistent and get a win with the cowbells and all that going on."


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