Miami Mauls Vols

A Tennessee football season that has been distinguished by devastating injuries and offensive ineptness reached critical mass Saturday in a 26-3 drubbing at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes.

The Vols offensive highlights came on the first series of the game when tailback Cedric Houston broke a 74-yard run to the Hurricane 5. But Tennessee couldn't get the ball any closer on three plays and settled for a 21-yard field goal by Alex Wall for a 3-0 lead.

Miami answered with a pair of field goals by Matt Seivers of 37 and 39 yards on its first two possessions to take a 6-3 lead with 4:17 remaining, and the contest was for all practical purposes over.

The Hurricanes added a touchdown on a one-yard run by  Willis McGahee early in the second quarter and tacked on a couple of more field goals by Seivers of 44 and  25 yards to assume a commanding 19-3 lead at intermission.

After its opening drive, Tennessee only gained 142 yards over the final 58 minutes and never reached the red zone again. The Vols finished with 218 yards total offense and only 77 yards through the air. Their deepest offensive penetration was to the Miami 23 in the fourth quarter, but penalties and sacks pushed the Vols back to their own 48 yard-line where they were forced to punt on fourth and 39 to go for a first down.

Tennessee's efforts were again circumvented by injuries on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Casey Clausen re-injured his foot and didn't play in the second half. Fullback Will Reville was knocked out of the game and starting left tackle Michael Munoz was unable to play. Tailback Jabari Davis was limited to one carry because of a bruised sternum. On defense starting middle linebacker Robert Peace left the game with a broken foot and is out for the year. Starting cornerback Willie Miles suffered a concussion in the first quarter and didn't return to play. Backup corner and return specialist Corey Larkins suffered a leg injury and left the game on crutches.

Despite crippling attrition, Tennessee's defense turned in a valiant effort holding Miami to only two touchdowns and its lowest point total of the season. The Canes gained 422 total yards in the game, including 177 on the ground. McGahee finished with 154 yards in 30 carries while quarterback Ken Dorsey completed 18-of-36 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown on an 11-yard toss to tight end Kellen Winslow.

"I thought our defense played pretty darn well," said Coach Phillip Fulmer during an interview broadcast by the Vol Network. "We just left them on the field all night long."

Miami's starters went the entire way even with a three-touchdown lead in the final three minutes of play. Conversely, Tennessee was at times playing five and six true freshmen on offense including wide receivers Chris Hannon, Jonathan Wade, offensive linemen Cody Douglas and Rob Smith, quarterback James Banks and running back Gerald Riggs.

The story was much the same on defense where true freshmen linebackers Marvin Mitchell and Omar Gaither played along with defensive linemen Parys Harrelson and Jonathan Mapu. They were joined by red-shirt freshmen Robert Boulware at corner and Ovince St. Preux and Jason Mitchell at linebacker. Even rarely used junior Terriea Smalls put in an appearance at defensive tackle.

"I don't know for sure," said Fulmer, "but I believe we've had more injuries in my 10th year than we have had in the first nine years total."

Banks took over at quarterback in the second half and started his first possession from his own 4 yard-line. He completed just 2-of-5 passes for eight yards in the contest and had little luck finding receivers or running room. C.J. Leak played the final two series for the Vols.

Among the few bright spots for Tennessee on offense was the play of Houston who finished with 111 yards in 14 carries. Wade picked up 25 yards on a couple of reverses and Derrick Tinsley had 16 yards on two carries. The Vols also took care of the football, committing no turnovers.

Dustin Colquitt had a career high 10 punts for a 42.8 yard average and Walls' field goal prevented the Vols from suffering their first shutout since a 31-0 loss to Florida in 1994.

Otherwise, it was domination by the talented Canes who compiled 25 first downs to UT's 10 and nearly doubled the Vols in total yardage 422 to 218.

The loss was Tennessee's third home defeat this season. In that trio of setbacks to Florida, Alabama and Miami the Vols have been outscored 91 to 30.

"The football gods haven't been shining on us this season," said senior tackle and tri-captain Will Ofenheusle. "We try to remind the young guys to remember how this feels because you don't ever want to have that bad taste in your mouth again. It's almost over for the seniors, but the young guys can learn from this and it will help in the future."

Tennessee's immediate future doesn't look promising. Clausen's status for next week's game at Starkville is in question and the deck must be reshuffled at linebacker. To make matters worse, Tennessee's final three opponents have all played better against teams that have beaten the Vols over their last 11 games. Kentucky suffered an improbable last play defeat to LSU, Vanderbilt pushed Florida to the limit before falling 21-17 and Mississippi State played Alabama closer in Tuscaloosa than UT did in Knoxville, losing 28-14.

With the Vols are running out of healthy bodies, Fulmer is facing the biggest challenge of his 10 year head coaching career.

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