UT tames wild Hogs, 34-13

A swarming Tennessee defense and a puzzling Arkansas game plan combined to turn Darren McFadden into the NCAA's most celebrated decoy Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

With McFadden getting just six first-half carries, the Vols raced to a 20-3 halftime lead en route to a 34-13 drubbing of the Razorbacks.

To credit the victory to Arkansas's under-use of McFadden, however, would be unfair to a Volunteer defense that played its best game of the season – by far. Tennessee limited the Heisman favorite to 22 carries for 117 net yards (down from 321 last week against South Carolina).

"McFadden's a great back," Vol linebacker Jerod Mayo said, "but he wasn't going to win the Heisman at Neyland Stadium today."

McFadden got precious little help from cohort Felix Jones, who suffered a deep-thigh bruise in the first half and managed just three yards on three carries. McFadden got even less help from a game plan that seemed intent on ignoring him.

The Razorbacks' first offensive play was a pass. McFadden gained 11 yards on the second play, then carried the ball on just two of the Hogs' next 16 snaps. By the time the Hogs got the ball for their fifth possession of the game they trailed 13-3, thanks to a 16-yard touchdown pass from Erik Ainge to Austin Rogers and Daniel Lincoln field goals of 25 and 28 yards.

Tennessee widened the gap to 20-3 just before halftime, Josh Briscoe taking a screen pass the distance on a third-and-goal at the Razorback 14-yard line.

With McFadden carrying a mere six times for 25 yards in the first half, Arkansas managed just 49 net yards and one first down while going 0-for-5 on third-down conversions. The Razorbacks had the ball just 9 minutes and 5 seconds, compared to Tennessee's 20 minutes and 55 seconds.

When the Vols' first possession of the second half ended with a 59-yard Arian Foster TD run and a 27-3 lead, Arkansas had to hope its paltry passing attack could lead a comeback. It couldn't. Casey Dick completed 12 of 22 passes for 140 yards with two interceptions, while backup Nathan Emert was 3 of 6 for 22 yards with one interception. Mayo returned Emert's mishap 34 yards for a TD with 2:46 to play, putting an exclamation point on the stunning outcome.

The victory leaves Tennessee (7-3 overall, 4-2 SEC) needing only to beat Vanderbilt Nov. 17 in Knoxville and Kentucky Nov. 24 in Lexington to win the Eastern Division title and a berth in the SEC Championship Game. The loss drops Arkansas to 6-4, 2-4 and could be the last straw for beleaguered Razorback coach Houston Nutt.

Tennessee won despite being outgained 289-279 yards in total offense. Foster finished with 83 yards on 13 carries and backup Montario Hardesty added 65 yards on 20 rushes. Ainge completed just 12 of 25 passes for 126 yards but threw for two TDs with zero interceptions.

Tennessee won the kicking game decisively. Freshman Dennis Rogan had a 78-yard kickoff return that set up a field goal and returned four punts for 32 yards. Fellow rookie Lennon Creer had a 32-yard kickoff return to set up the Vols' opening TD. Antonio Wardlow partially blocked an Arkansas punt. Lincoln hit two of three field-goal tries. Except for a 48-yard kickoff return by Felix Jones, the Big Orange did a good job in coverage, too.

With the 2007 UT defense on pace to set several records for futility, most of the media who cover the team gave the Vols no chance to stop an Arkansas ground attack that amassed 541 yards in its 48-36 trouncing of South Carolina. Mayo hinted that the press deserved a game ball.

"Every time you guys talk bad about us we play good," the junior linebacker said, grinning smugly, "so keep talking bad."

Head coach Phillip Fulmer preferred to credit his players for the superior defensive effort.

"Defensively, I could not be more proud," he said, singling out a front four that "played outstanding."

Meanwhile, Fulmer deserved some credit for a first-quarter gamble that paid huge dividends. On the game's opening possession, he elected to "go for it" on fourth-and-one at Tennessee's 45-yard line. Erik Ainge got the necessary yardage on a sneak, and the Vols went up 7-0 seven plays later.

Fulmer admitted that the Pucker Factor (feeling one's rectum contract in a high-stress situation) was in full effect on the fourth-and-one call.

"You're sure going to pucker up when you start calling those, especially early in the game like we did," he said. "But we made a statement."

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